South Korea has its sights set on becoming one of a small group of countries that export fighter jets, potentially giving a boost to its slowing economy.
South Korea's first home-built light fighter, the FA-50, will roll out on Tuesday (August 20) from the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) assembly plant in Sacheon.
The FA-50 is based on the T-50 advanced jet trainer, which is already in service in South Korea and got its first export customer - Indonesia - in 2011. The development of a much larger KF-X fighter with the help of U.S. defence contractors could get the go-ahead by the end of the year.
That will pit South Korea's fighters in a dogfight against U.S., European, Chinese and Russian companies in an increasingly crowded - yet still lucrative - market. Global defence budgets are forecast to increase by 9.3 percent to $1.65 trillion by 2021, according to analysts IHS Janes. Defence budgets in the Asia Pacific are forecast to outstrip North America by 2021, up 35 percent from 2013 levels to $501bn, it added in its Balance of Trade report in June.
KAI officials say that they aim to sell about 1,000 FA-50s and T-50s overseas over the next three decades, and that they are eyeing markets in Southeast Asia, East Europe and the Americas.
Seoul has for several years been studying a larger KF-X fighter aircraft, which it hopes will be a replacement for the F-16-class of fighters. A decision is expected by end-2013 and the winner of the ongoing FX-III tender has to help with its development.
The KF-X project remains on the drawing board however, due to budget concerns, but KAI said it is capable of building the high-grade next generation fighters based on its own previous models.
Presented by Adam Justice