Recently, South Korea’s FA-50 light fighter was selected by Malaysia to replace 16 MiG-29s that were decommissioned in 2017.

Along with the K2 Black Panther MBT and the K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzer, the FA-50 is becoming the main export weapon of the Korean defense industry. Recently, South Korea’s FA-50 light fighter was selected by Malaysia to replace 16 MiG-29s that were decommissioned in 2017. It is noteworthy that this Southeast Asian country has rejected an offer to purchase an upgraded version of Fulcrum.

On 24 February 2023, the Malaysian Ministry of Defense signed a contract with the Korean aviation company Korea Aerospace Industries for a contract for the procurement of 18 FA-50 light fighters. The contract was reported to be worth KRW1.2 trillion (US$920 million). The deal is KAI’s biggest ever single contract in Southeast Asia, and would make Malaysia the 4th country in the region to operate the T-50 Golden Eagle family of aircraft.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force will receive the latest variant of the FA-50. It will have integrated aerial refueling capabilities and the ability to carry an improved range of weapons compared to previous variants. The fighter is designated FA-50 Block 20. It is capable of carrying Lockheed Martin’s AN/AAQ-33 sniper targeting pod and Raytheon’s AIM-120 AMRAAM beyond visual range air-to-air missile.

FA-50 is a very popular light combat aircraft in Southeast Asia, currently serving in the Indonesian, Thai and Philippine air forces. KAI T-50 or Golden Eagle developed by Korea Aerospace Industries in partnership with Lockheed Martin in the late 1990s, and its maiden flight occurred in 2002. The aircraft entered active service with the Republic of Korea Air Force in 2005. The resulting design is a highly modified derivative of the Lockheed Martin F-16 “Fighting Falcon”, of which KAI license-builds as the “KF-16”.

Much like the F-16 Fighting Falcon before it, the FA-50 features a large glass canopy, a single large-area vertical tail fin and a single turbofan powerplant in the General Electric F404 series. The fighter has seating for two pilots in a tandem arrangement. The high-mounted canopy developed by Hankuk Fiber is applied with stretched acrylic, providing the pilots good visibility.

The FA-50 uses a single General Electric F404-102 turbofan engine license-produced by Samsung Techwin, upgraded with a FADEC system jointly developed by General Electric and KAI. The aircraft has a maximum speed of Mach 1.5. Its engine produces a maximum of 78.7 kN of thrust with afterburner.

The FA-50 is armed with a three-barrel cannon version of the M61 Vulcan mounted internally behind the cockpit, which fires linkless 20 mm ammunition. Wingtip rails can accommodate the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile, and a variety of additional weapons can be mounted to underwing hardpoints. Compatible air-to-surface weapons include the AGM-65 Maverick missile, Hydra 70 and LOGIR rocket launchers, CBU-58 and Mk-20 cluster bombs, and Mk-82, 83, and 84 general-purpose bombs.

The FA-50 Block 20 is the next modernized version of the FA-50 Block 10 light fighter. The FA-50 Block 20 can fulfill the role of a light multirole fighter. And it remains a reliable trainer, allowing Malaysia to replace the aging BAE Systems Hawks.


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