Seoul seeking to export 500 trainer jets to U.S.

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Seoul seeking to export 500 trainer jets to U.S.

Korea is seeking to export as many as 500 supersonic trainer jets to the United States, whose Air Force is considering replacing its aging fleet of trainer aircraft, a government official said yesterday.

The U.S. Air Force is reviewing options on whether to upgrade the aging T-38 trainer jets or replace them with new ones, with a decision expected by 2012, the official said. The official added that a team of U.S. inspectors visited Seoul this year to check the performance of the Korean-built T-50 trainer jets.

“If the U.S. decides to introduce new trainer jets, it would buy 300 to 500 aircraft,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. Air Force is studying the T-50, the M-346 of Italy and the Hawk 128 of Britain as possible candidates to replace its T-38s, according to the official.

Jointly developed by the country’s sole aircraft maker Korea Aerospace Industries and U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin, Korea rolled out the T-50 “Golden Eagle” in 2005, making it the world’s 12th supersonic jet producer.

Korea has pushed to export the T-50, but its bids to sell the aircraft to the United Arab Emirates and Singapore failed because its price was high.

Although the T-50, which costs more than 22 billion won ($20 million) per unit, is 10 percent to 20 percent more expensive than rivals, it is the world’s only trainer jet that can fly at Mach 1.5, the official said.

Separately, Korea is pushing to sell the T-50 to Indonesia and Poland.

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