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[Op-Ed] T-50 in Singapore

Posted February. 09, 2010 09:00,   


The Singapore Air Show is one of the world’s top three aviation events. This year’s event that ended Sunday was scaled down from that of 2008. Yet even if the Singapore show was held at the same scale as in previous years, it would not have topped the Seoul Air Show. This is a testament to how much the Korean aviation industry has progressed. Conspicuously absent at this year’s Singapore Air Show was the F-35, which was developed by Lockheed Martin of the U.S. jointly with 10 countries, and the Euro Fighter. Singapore introduced 24 F-15 fighter jets in 2008, and is unlikely to have keen interest in high-tech fighter jets for the time being.

Featured at the Singapore show was a fleet of the T-50 advanced trainer jet, developed with care jointly by Korea and Lockheed Martin. The T-50 fleet of Korea’s first fighter aviation unit clearly showed “Korean Air Force” inscribed on its aircraft, as well as Singapore’s symbol “Merlion (fish with a lion’s head),” marked on the vertical wing. The fleet offered demonstration flights every day during the event, and when asked by the Singaporean Air Force, it offered on-board test flights. Displayed across the T-50 fleet was the M-346 prototype aircraft, which is being developed by Italy. In late 2008, the T-50 lost to the M-346 in an open bid by the United Arab Emirates. Despite its overwhelmingly superior performance, the T-50 lost in price competition and ways of industrial cooperation.

Together with Israel, Singapore is considered one of two countries that are highly selective in choosing arms suppliers. Since the city-state’s territory is slightly larger than Seoul’s, it has no space for takeoff and landing of military aircraft. It has dispatched a large portion of its fighter jet fleet to the U.S. and India. Moreover, it wants trained pilots more than trainer jets. Lockheed Martin established Lockheed Martin STS, an affiliate devoted to training pilots in a third country using the T-50. As ST Aero, a Singaporean concern, has also joined the foray to train pilots with the M-346, competition has flared up for pilot training.

Lockheed Martin significantly cut the price of the T-50 by reducing the price of GE’s engines, which account for half of the cost for military aircraft. The cost matter has been resolved, so the Singaporean Air Force is showing keen interest in the T-50. The UAE is also following suit in considering the T-50 as a candidate. News reports say that if the T-50 wins the bid in Singapore, the UAE is also likely to have the T-50 and M-346 compete again. Will the T-50 fly over the skies of Singapore and the UAE?

Editorial Writer Lee Jeong-hoon (hoon@donga.com)