Senegal is reportedly moving forward with its acquisition of FA-50 Fighting Eagle light combat aircraft from South Korea. The exact number and value of the aircraft are not disclosed, but some reports suggest that Senegal may have ordered up to four FA-50s worth $147 million.
The FA-50 is a supersonic, multi-role aircraft developed by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) in partnership with Lockheed Martin. It is based on the T-50 advanced trainer jet, which has been in service with the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) since 2013. The FA-50 is equipped with a Tactical Data Link, Precision Guided Munitions, and Self Protection subsystems, and can perform various missions such as air-to-air, air-to-ground, and air-to-sea combat.
Senegal’s decision to acquire the FA-50 comes after its previous deal with Aero Vodochody for four L-39NG light attack aircraft fell through. General Sarr Pape Souleymane, the head of the Senegalese air force, said he was looking for a new supplier for four light combat aircraft and chose the FA-50s made by KAI.
Senegal currently operates 25 aircraft, most of which are helicopters, with the training mission performed using six Daher Socata TB 30s trainer aircraft. The FA-50 will enhance Senegal’s air capabilities and provide a cost-effective and proven platform for its pilots.
Senegal is not the only African country interested in the FA-50. In September 2022, KAI announced that it was about to deliver FA-50s to an undisclosed first customer in Africa, which could be either Senegal or Egypt. Egypt has signed an agreement with South Korea for the local production of T-50/FA-50 aircraft at the AOI Aircraft Factory in Helwan, which previously licence-produced Chinese K-8E trainers for the Egyptian Air Force. Egypt’s requirement for a new trainer could potentially be as large as 100 aircraft.
The FA-50 has also attracted attention from other countries in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, as demand for South Korean aircraft is on the rise, particularly from countries that need to beef up their self-defense capabilities or need to refill their depleted weapons stockpiles following arms support to Ukraine.
“As instability grows in a specific region, countries that feel their own security vulnerabilities are moving to increase defense spending and purchase military assets like fighter jets for stronger independent defense capabilities,” Lee Bong-keun, vice president and general manager in charge of KAI’s international business division told Yonhap News Agency.
“Clients are looking for mature, proven and cost-effective aircraft. The FA-50 has outstanding merits (in terms of those aspects) as the South Korean Air Force has made a number of flights with the aircraft,” Lee said, adding dozens of FA-50s have been exported.
The FA-50 can serve as not only advanced trainer jet but as a light attacker with some weapons on it and comes at a modest price. That’s why the Korean aircraft is preferred in developing countries.
The T-50 series, including the FA-50, are “multi-role” aircraft as they help dramatically reduce the time and costs in transferring pilots to higher-level fighter jets, such as F-16 and F-35, the Korean aircraft company said.
The FA-50 has also achieved some notable successes in the export market, such as securing a deal to supply 48 FA-50s to Poland, worth $3 billion, in 2022. Poland had previously opted for the Italian M-346 over the T-50 in 2013, but reversed its decision in 2022. The FA-50 also won a contract to supply 18 FA-50s to Malaysia, worth $919.70 million, in 2023, beating the Indian Tejas and the Chinese L-15.
The FA-50 is expected to continue to attract more customers in the future, as KAI aims to sell 1,000 of the T-50 and its variants globally.