Poland bought South Korean FA-50 light fighters

In total, two contracts were signed by MON, respectively The Armaments Agency (Agencja Uzbrojenia), with the South Korean company KAI (Korean Aerospace Industries). Together with Hyundai Rotem and Hanwha Systems, it belongs to the three central conglomerates of the South Korean defense industry.

The first contract concerns the urgent delivery of 12 FA-50 light fighters in the same configuration (Block 10) as the South Korean Air Force (ROKAF). Naturally, the deliveries include all necessary things required for the operation of aircraft – spare parts, consumables, handling and service equipment, instruments, tools, preparations, diagnostic systems, computer equipment, technical documentation, technical support, equipment for pilots, simulators, training, etc. Once again, we will remind you of a basic and generally valid lesson in the military – “things around” machines are the same as the platforms themselves.

The contract also includes the supply of flight FMS (Flight Model Simulator) and OFT (Operational Flight Trainer) simulators, plus the training of Polish pilots and ground personnel in the Republic of Korea.

The first contract is worth 700 million dollars without VAT (CZK 17.1 billion). All 12 newly produced FA-50 Block 10 will arrive in Poland in the second half of next year. This unrivaled speed of delivery is made possible by the ROKAF’s (allegedly reluctant) agreement to prioritize delivery of FA-50s to the Polish Air Force.

Ceremonial act of signing the FA-50 and FA-50PL acquisition contract for the Polish Air Force; larger photo / MON

The subject of the second contract is the supply of 36 FA-50PL and all necessary operational and training systems. The value of the second contract is 2.3 billion dollars without VAT (CZK 56.2 billion).

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The FA-50PL aircraft is to be based on the developed version of the FA-50 Block 20 and modified according to Polish requirements. Quite naturally, there is therefore a risk of prolonging and increasing the cost of development and testing of the not yet existing “PL” version. In any case, the Polish Air Force expects the first FA-50PL in 2025, the last in 2028.

Part of the introduction of the FA-50 into the Polish Air Force is the transfer of technology, as a result of which a service center for FA-50 aircraft will be established in Poland with a planned launch date of 2026. Furthermore, the first 12 FA-50s will be unified to the FA-50PL standard, apparently with significant contribution of Polish industry. Further development of the FA-50PL platform is also expected, especially the integration of new ammunition.

Maximum load on suspension points and FA-50 Block 10 / KAI undercarriage types

The first 12 Polish FA-50s arrive at the 23rd Tactical Air Force Base from Mińsk Mazowiecki (1st Tactical Wing). Here, South Korean fighters will replace Soviet MiG-29s. Since Poland sent a large amount of spare parts for MiG-29s (perhaps even entire planes) and weapons to Ukraine, the combat value of MiG-29s in the Polish Air Force is practically zero (official sources say so). In addition, after the introduction of the FA-50, Warsaw can hand over its other migas to the Ukrainian Air Force. By the way, the Ukrainian Air Force will sooner or later acquire 14 MiG-29s from Bulgaria, which is switching to F-16 fighters.

In 2025, FA-50PL aircraft will head to the 21st and 22nd bases, also belonging to the 1st Tactical Wing (1 Skrzydło Lotnictwa Taktycznego). This will allow the complete withdrawal of all MiG-29s and Su-22s from the arsenal of the Polish Air Force.

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The FA-50 is powered by an afterburner jet engine with a thrust of 79 kN. Maximum speed in clean configuration (without weapons) is Mach 1.5. The practical combat range (with weapons and additional tanks) is up to 500 kilometers. The machine can carry up to 4,500 kilograms of ammunition under its fuselage and wings. However, due to the relatively low stiffness of the wings, the external suspension points can only carry light armament.

The Polish Air Force will use the basic version of the FA-50 mainly for close air support (CAS) tasks and AI (Air Interdiction) deep tactical strikes. For this task, the FA-50 will mainly carry AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles – the Polish Air Force has around 300 of these missiles. In a typical configuration, the FA-50 accommodates one fuselage fuel tank (650 litres), four Maverick missiles and two wingtip Sidewinder missiles.

A special sling under the F-16 pylon allows up to three Maverick missiles to be carried (1984); larger photo / Department of Defense

All Polish FA-50s will receive a Link 16 datalink and a NATO-standard own-foreign (IFF) identification system. The exact form of the FA-50PL is not yet known. But there is talk of a new radar (AESA), a system for refueling in flight, a larger under-hull additional fuel tank (1300 liters) and a new range of weapons (mainly laser-guided bombs). The use of pilot helmets with see-through displays is also mentioned.

The sale of the FA-50 is understandably a huge success for the Korean defense industry. In particular, the Korean media acknowledges the penetration of the alliance market with combat aircraft. This should open the door to more tenders for KAI, especially in the United States, which is looking for hundreds of new trainer (training-combat) aircraft.

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The achievement is even more impressive when we consider that there was no South Korean military industry after the Korean War in the 1950s. The KAI company itself was founded only in 1999.

A single FA-50 consists of 200,000 to 300,000 parts, with most parts being produced without automation in low-run volumes, with a large proportion of manual labor. Thanks to this, a number of Korean companies participate in the production. According to Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) “the export of one fighter jet is comparable to the effect of exporting 1,000 mid-range cars.”

Source: news1, Defence24, 2