Saturday, July 25, 2009

T-50 Golden Eagle is ready for a shot at a contest in Singapore

The T-50 Golden Eagle, a South Korean supersonic trainer jet, is ready for a shot at a contest in Singapore. But it needs to get over its Italian nemesis to achieve the feat after frustration in its first bidding competition in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). On the shortlist with the T-50 is the M-346 of Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi, which was picked up as the preferred bidder in the Middle Eastern country earlier this year. Lockheed Martin, the bid partner, and the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), the T-50 manufacturer, submitted its bid to Singapore this month. The country’s government sent the selected competitors requests for proposals late last year, and plans to decide on a preferred bidder between the two before the end of the year. The T-50 is trying to consolidate in the $500-million deal by pursuing stronger defense ties with Singapore. Following the introduction of the high-end jet during the Singapore Air Show in February last year, Korean Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Lee Kye-hoon met with Singapore’s Air Force chief, Maj. Gen. Ng Chee Khern, to promote the jet in his three-day visit to the Southeast Asian country. The Ministry of Knowledge Economy is avoiding involvement in the project, marking a contrast to the strong government involvement in the T-50 bid for the UAE deal. This time, Lockheed is taking the lead. “This time, the ministry is just following the bid progress, but is not involved in the deal itself,” said Jung Hong-kon, a ministry official. However, an industry watcher says that Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi is playing an active role in promoting his country’s bid. “This needs involvement at the highest level,” he said, calling on President Lee Myung-bak to push the T-50 bid. KAI could have an advantage in Lockheed Martin’s involvement in the project, as the U.S. maker participated in Singapore’s PC-21 contract and also forms the essential part of the country’s combat capability with its F-16 fighters. On the other hand, Aermacchi is teamed with ST Aerospace, a state-run Singaporean aviation service company. KAI expects that success in Singapore will be pivotal to the T-50 program, with which it wants to secure some 30 percent of the global trainers market within 25 years. It says it is confident when it comes to the quality of the Golden Eagle jet. The T-50, first launched in 2001, is regarded as the world’s sole supersonic high-performance trainer in production. However, high prices were a huge drag in the UAE contest, according to industry watchers. The T-50 jet’s flyaway cost is set at between 20 and 25 billion won ($16 and $20 million), while that of the M-346 is cheaper by up to a fifth. The Korean company has kept an extremely low profile about the prospects for the deal, saying that both the quality and price competitiveness of the jet and education service are their strong point in winning the bid. There were rumors that it would try some “special discount” for the first export deal, but a KAI official refused to confirm the speculation.

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