LANGKAWI – When the Ministry of Defence seals an agreement to procure 18 FA-50 “Fighting Eagle” with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) tomorrow, the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) as the operator of the light combat aircraft will be getting its hands on the most capable variant of the fighter jet, the Block 20.
Speaking exclusively via a translator to Bernama, KAI’s chief executive officer Kang Goo-Young said the FA-50 Block 20 variant to be procured by Malaysia is more advanced and capable than even the FA-50 operated by the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) and other countries.
Currently, only RMAF and the Polish Air Force have opted for the latest variant of the “Fighting Eagles.”
“The FA-50 Block 20 for Polish and Malaysian air forces are the newest version of the FA-50 and have the most capabilities. I would like to say that the capabilities for both Poland and Malaysia are identical.
“There are differences between the FA-50 operated by ROKAF and the Block 20 exported to Malaysia and Poland. The difference is the Korean version operated by ROKAF does not have the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar; it has the conventional radar. It also does not have the Targeting Pod and refuelling system.
“So we can say that the exported version (Block 20) is the most updated, upgraded newest version of FA-50,” he said.
Last year, Poland signed an agreement with KAI to purchase 48 FA-50 for its air force.
Besides Malaysia, other operators of the earlier variants of T-50/FA-50 light combat aircraft in South East Asia are Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Interviewed on the sidelines of 16th Edition of Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA 2023) which kicked off yesterday, Kang also disclosed that as part of the Industrial Collaboration Programme (ICP) with the government, 14 of the FA-50 Block 20 aircraft will undergo their final assembly in Malaysia.
Another four of the fighter aircraft will be assembled in South Korea, he said, adding that KAI is expected to start delivering the fighter aircraft to Malaysia from October 2026.
To get the “ball rolling” and fulfill Malaysia’s order, the South Korean aerospace giant will buy all the necessary raw materials and procure key components to be used on Malaysia’s version of the fighter aircraft.
“There is new equipment which we will put into, such as the radar, the refuelling system and the targeting pod integration to be done on the aircraft.
“We are ordering in advance and doing advanced research and development in order to meet the delivery (for Malaysia) in 2026,” he said.
According to information made available to Bernama, the RMAF and Polish variant of FA-50 Block 20 will be equipped with new capabilities not found in any other variants, such as the “PhantomStrike” AESA radar developed by US firm, Raytheon, Chobham air-refuelling probe and “Sniper” Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP), among others.
The latest variant of the FA-50 is also capable of carrying precision-guided bombs and other cutting-edge weapons.
“Second phase I believe is part of the long-term strategic plan of the Malaysian armed forces. I already know that RMAF is very much interested in the second phase as well, and that is why we will coordinate closely with the (Malaysian) government to prepare for the second phase,” he said.
Kang was also asked whether KAI will promote to RMAF the KF-21 “Boramae” it is currently developing.
He said the 4.5th generation fighter jet “will be the ideal fit for the Malaysian Air Force.”
Under RMAF’s CAP55 programme, the air force plans to retire its eight F/A-18D Hornet and 18 Sukhoi Su-30MKM Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) in 2035 and 2040 respectively.
RMAF is expected to induct a new fleet of MRCA before the planned retirement of both its long-serving heavyweight fighter jets.
“I believe, yes, the KF-21 will be more than likely to be able to replace them because the timing of the retirement of F/A-18D and Su-30MKM is exactly the same time when the KF-21 will be fielded,” he said.
By combining the KF-21 and FA-50, said Kang, RMAF will have a very strategic and tactical-level air defence system.
“KF-21 is a 4.5th generation fighter jet but it will have the 5th generation platform, meaning that it is not only 5th generation but can also be upgraded to 6th generation fighter jet in the future. That is why I believe that KF-21 will be the ideal fit for RMAF,” he added.- Bernama