LIMA 2023 – KAI FA-50 contract for the Royal Malaysian Air Force officially signed

Paolo Valpolini

In four years time the Royal Malaysian Air Force will deploy a squadron of KAI FA-50 s, the fighter jet of South Korean origin, which number might well double under a future contract

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Although the Letter for Acceptance for the acquisition of 18 FA-50 fighter jets from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) was signed on February 24th, 2023, the official contract signature took place on 23rd May in Langkawi during LIMA 2023. The contract for 18 fighter jets is worth US$ 920 million, first deliveries being scheduled for August 2026, and the programme to be completed one year later.

EDR On-Line understands that eight aircraft will be used in the Lead-In Fighter Trainer (LIFT) role while the remaining 10 will have an operational role as Light Fighter Aircraft.

At LIMA it was possible to see the model of the FA-50 with Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) markings and in the configuration adopted by the RMAF.

Malaysian industry will be involved in the project as partial assembly will take place in country; EDR On-Line understood that horizontal stabilisers, vertical fin, wings and engine will be installed in Malaysia, where flight tests will also take place, KAI being of course responsible for the final delivery.

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Compared to FA-50s acquired by South Korea, Malaysian ones will be fitted with the air refuelling system, while the central pylon will receive the targeting pod. Both such fit will be key in the training as well as in the operational role.

The aircraft should also be fitted with Raytheon’s PhantomStrike AESA radar, based on a gallium nitride array and a compact high-reliability integrated receiver/exciter processor, which should allow the use of beyond visual range missiles. Present to LIMA 2023, the company did not comment on a possible use of the new radar on Malaysian aircraft. It is clear that for Malaysia operational FA-50s will have a front line role, operating alongside Boeing F/A-18D Hornets belonging to the 18th Squadron.

In perspective the RMAF should acquire a further batch of FA-50s, KAI expecting to bag a second order in five years time for another 18 aircraft.

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In the mean time the South Korean company is developing the single-seat version of the FA-50; this will maintain the same canopy as the operation will not see major changes in the aircraft structure, which will allow avoiding major requalification costs, the back seat being removed and replaced by a 400 kg fuel tank, a second tank being fitted in the rear fuselage to cope with centre of gravity issues. This will add a 25% range to the aircraft. According to information obtained at LIMA, such a modification will be adopted on newly built aircraft; modifying existing FA-50s would need a thorough disassembly to install all the piping, and is not considered cost effective. KAI considers this option more for South Korea, Malaysian aircraft being fitted with the refuelling system.

The Malaysian contract for the FA-50 attracts the interest of missile manufacturers, MBDA proposing its ASRAAM air-to-air missile as well as its Brimstone precision strike missile.

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The FA-50 is 13.14 metres long, has a 9.45 metres wingspan, and a maximum take-off mass of 12,215 kg, is powered by a General Electric F404 turbofan engine providing over 8,000 kg thrust, maximum speed being Mach 1.5. It is armed with an M61 three-barrel Vulcan 20 mm cannon. South Korean aircraft are armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles and JDAM guided bombs,

Photos by P. Valpolini