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Korea set to sell T-50 jets to Indonesia

Seoul took a step closer to exporting T-50 trainer jets to Indonesia as the Southeast Asian nation selected South Korea’s state-run aircraft maker as the de facto preferred bidder of its trainer jet project, Cheong Wa Dae said Tuesday.

“The Indonesian defense ministry informed Korea Aerospace Industries that it will be treated as the preferred bidder of the trainer jet project,” presidential spokesperson Kim Hee-jung told reporters Tuesday.

Korea is seeking to sell 16 T-50 jets worth $400 million to Indonesia. Indonesian media had reported earlier that the country’s air force would purchase 16 T-50 jets.

Kim denied news reports that said the planned contract had strings attached such as a condition that Korea buys freighter planes from Indonesia.

A final deal, if sealed, would mark Korea’s first export of the T-50 “Golden Eagle.”

Being a preferred bidder means Korea has exclusive negotiating rights for the Indonesian project for a certain period of time, raising the chances of the company winning the final contract.

“We will be holding full-scale negotiations with the Indonesian government on the specifics, such as prices for the T-50,” a KAI official said.

Korea first unveiled the T-50 in 2005 after the KAI developed the supersonic jet jointly with U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin, making the country the world’s 12th supersonic jet producer. It took 2 trillion won and 13 years to develop the jet.

Seoul has tried to export the jet to Indonesia as Jakarta plans to replace its aging Hawk Mk-53 trainer jets that are scheduled to be decommissioned this year.

Indonesia narrowed down the competition to Korea’s T-50, Russia’s Yak-130 and the Czech Republic’s L-159 in August last year.

Four months later, President Lee Myung-bak visited Indonesia and agreed with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on defense industry cooperation such as production of trainer jets and submarines.

Last month, Indonesian Air Force Commander Marshall Imam Syafaat made a three-day trip to South Korea that included a tour of plants that build the T-50 trainer jets.

Seoul is also tapping Israel, the U.S., Poland, India and the United Arab Emirates to sell the T-50 jets.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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