KAI is South Korea’s principle military aircraft manufacturer, producing a range of platforms from basic trainers and helicopters to the world’s newest supersonic jet fighter aircraft, the twin engine KF-21. Compared with industrial giants such as Hyundai, Samsung and Hanwha, the company is quite small at only around 4,000 employees but it has a central role in the country’s military technology growth and its products are already gaining a lot of export success.

Because of the utter devastation of the Korean war from 1950-1953, all companies had to start from scratch. KAI was created in 1999 to consolidate expertise in the sector following a successful transfer of technology program in the 1980s following Korea’s decision to purchase the Lockheed Martin F-16 ‘Fighting Falcon’. The prime contractor was Samsung Aerospace, partnered with Daewoo and Korea Air. Following the success of this program, the Korean government brokered the creation of KAI, bringing in Hyundai, and also becoming a shareholder in it.

In a walk-run-sprint approach followed by many Korean companies, KAI have taken the F-16 experience – and the connection with Lockheed Martin – to develop a smaller family of trainer and light attack jets of the T-50 / FA-50 series. The armed version of the T-50 is a strong contender for AIR 6002 to the replace the RAAF’s fleet of BAE ‘Hawk’ Lead-In Fighters. KAI have sold variants of these platforms to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Poland – and to the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) that sets exceptionally high requirements for combat aircraft.

At the Avalon air show in early March, APDR had the privilege of speaking with the President and CEO of KAI, Dr Goo-young Kang, himself a very experienced test pilot. He indicated that he saw a role for Australian suppliers not only for the T-50 program, but also potentially for the KF-21. This is of considerable significance because at least 200 of these aircraft will be constructed for the RoKAF and they have considerable export potential because of their stealth shape and twin-engine large payload configuration.

Asked first about the international success of the T-50 family, Dr Kang said:

“There are a few main reasons. Number one is that KAI during its development of the KT-1 basic trainer accumulated confidence and also key technologies in order to develop aircraft. Also, we had technical support from Lockheed Martin that we were able to apply to the development of the T-50.

This is an excerpt from APDR. To read the full story, click here.

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Kym Bergmann
Kym Bergmann is the editor for Asia Pacific Defence Reporter (APDR) and Defence Review Asia (DRA). He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism and the defence industry. After graduating with honours from the Australian National University, he joined Capital 7 television, holding several positions including foreign news editor and chief political correspondent. During that time he also wrote for Business Review Weekly, undertaking analysis of various defence matters.After two years on the staff of a federal minister, he moved to the defence industry and held senior positions in several companies, including Blohm+Voss, Thales, Celsius and Saab. In 1997 he was one of two Australians selected for the Thomson CSF 'Preparation for Senior Management' MBA course. He has also worked as a consultant for a number of companies including Raytheon, Tenix and others. He has served on the boards of Thomson Sintra Pacific and Saab Pacific.


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