Park pushes to nab U.S. bid to export T-50 jets

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Park pushes to nab U.S. bid to export T-50 jets

As the government struggles to rebound from a firestorm of criticism surrounding its failure to obtain four key technologies from the United States for its indigenous fighter jet program, the president declared on Thursday that the possible export of domestically made T-50 supersonic training jets could be a “catalyst” for boosting U.S.-Korea relations.

Park Geun-hye has brazenly pushed the domestic defense industry to do all it can to win a bid led by the U.S. Air Force valued at 17 trillion won ($14.4 billion) next year. The deal, she said, if successfully inked, will “usher stability and peace on the Korean Peninsula” and reinforce “military interoperability” between the two countries.

The U.S. Air Force announced last year that it would purchase a two-seat jet trainer through the T-X bidding program to replace the Northrop T-38 Talon. The T-50 Golden Eager trainers are Korea’s first domestically made supersonic jets developed by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), with technical support from America’s Lockheed Martin.

Park’s statement was made during a ceremony unveiling the latest version of the fighter jet specially developed to be submitted for the bid.

Organized by KAI in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang, the convention was attended by some 600 people, including National Defense Minister Han Min-koo; Trade, Industry and Energy Minister Yoon Sang-jick; and Air Force Chief of Staff Jeong Kyung-doo.

Park also noted the financial benefits of winning the deal, saying it would “greatly contribute to the national economy” by creating a “ripple effect” that would help Korea gain an extra 7.3 trillion won and add 43,000 more jobs in the market.

Dubbing the aviation industry as the “kernel of the creative economy,” in which domestic companies of all sizes can share knowledge and information, Park added that the government would continue to fully back related industries so that technologies can be shared on both the military and civilian level.

The creative economy drive is based on a commitment of job creation by allowing companies to freely enter promising industries.

The T-50 multi-purpose jets, which first took flight in 2002, span 9.5 meters (31 feet) from wing to wing. Its maximum speed is 1.5 Mach, or 510 meters per second.

The aircraft has been exported to four countries since 2011, with 24 to Iraq in 2013; 16 to Indonesia in 2011; 12 to the Philippines in 2014; and four to Thailand in September.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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