Poland and South Korea are reportedly about to sign a deal for 48 KAI T-50 Golden Eagle fighter jets in a contract valued at €2.5 billion ($2.5 billion).
The upcoming order, reported by Defense News, is part of a series of contracts to be signed on July 27, 2022. It includes 180 K2 main battle tanks with options for 400 more and 670 K9 self-propelled howitzers. In total, the impressive volume of equipment is worth a total of €14.1 billion ($14.5 billion).
The F-50 is a derivative of the T-50 trainer, which in terms of combat capabilities is considered the most capable in the world outside Taiwan and the Chinese mainland, and inherits the trainer’s low operational costs and ease of maintenance while improving its lethality considerably.
With Taiwan’s competing Brave Eagle jet having yet to materialize, the T-50 is widely considered the most advanced trainer produced to be compatible with U.S. and NATO hardware, leading the U.S. Air Force among others to show strong interest in acquisitions.
F-50 orders come as Poland seeks to maximize its combat potential in the face of growing tensions with neighboring Russia, and as the retirement of existing squadrons of Su-22 and MiG-29 fighters acquired from the Soviet Union is expected in the near future.
The T/F-50 has seen significant use of combat in the Philippines and Iraq, namely for counterinsurgency operations against Islamist militants, although its ability to meaningfully contribute to operations against modern state militaries such as those of Russia and Belarus remains in question.
A major shortcoming of the F-50 as a modern fighter is its lack of viable beyond visual range air-to-air capabilities, which while sufficient on the Korean Peninsula where much of North Korea’s Air Force similarly lacks such capabilities, will be a major shortcoming in Eastern Europe with Russia’s latest air to air missiles being among the most capable in the world.
Although plans to integrate the AIM-120C air-to-air missile onto the fighter were previously considered, with the missile having superior capabilities to those equipping most Russian and Belarusian fighter squadrons, this never materialized leaving the fighters relying solely on AIM-9 infrared-guided missiles and A-50 rotary cannon.
The possibility that F-50s could be modified to use such missiles in the future, however, cannot be ruled out, with the possibility of equipping them with anti-ship cruise missiles also having also been raised for future variants.
Reports of a large F-50 sale to Poland come just days after South Korea conducted the maiden flight of its stealth fighter, the KF-21, which made it only the fourth country in the world to fly such an aircraft and the first to join the exclusive list since 2011 when China first flew its J-20 prototype.
The F-50 sale is expected not only to inject considerable new funds into the program, which could pave the way for the development of a number of proposed variants such as electronic attack jets but could also potentially open the door to Polish acquisitions of the KF-21 as a higher-end counterpart.