Botched NIS Break-In Jeopardizes Long-Cherished Hopes

      February 22, 2011 13:26

      Export of the T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic trainer jet has been a long-cherished dream of the Korean government. Developed by Korea Aerospace Industries in collaboration with Lockheed Martin over a 10 year period starting in 1997 at a cost of W2.8 trillion (US$1=W1,119), the T-50 is the country's first supersonic trainer jet and is equipped with top-notch electronics equipment.

      These features had stoked hopes of exports reaching around 1,000. The Air Force bought 90, but that was not enough to recoup the investment, making export crucial. The problem is the high price tag of US$25 million per jet. Although the T-50 boasts superior performance to Italy's Aermacchi M-346 Master trainer jet, the Korean plane has lost to its Italian rival on several bids due to the high price.

      When he was president elect in January 2008, Lee asked the ruler of Abu Dhabi to buy T-50s but was unsuccessful. Lee then pitched the T-50 to Poland during his visit to Warsaw in 2009 and failed as well. Last year, he wooed Singapore by inviting the country's leader to the G20 Summit, but failed again.

      He then set his sights on Indonesia. Despite his busy schedule last December dealing with the aftermath of North Korea's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, Lee pushed ahead with a visit to Bali because rejecting an invitation from Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono could have hurt the potential sale of the T-50 and other bilateral pacts. The two leaders there forged a defense industry cooperation pact that led to the visit of a high-level delegation to Seoul last week.

      A government source said, "The two countries tried to wrap up the T-50 export deal during defense ministerial talks [last Tuesday] but everything got messed up." Sources in the defense industry say the T-50 is a superb trainer jet despite its high price, and are concerned that the botched break-in at the delegation's hotel room by NIS agents could throw them back to square one.

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