Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), which manufactures the FA-50 fighter jet, is one of the bidders for the international tender to supply 18 units of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) to the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF).
When there are better options to choose from the pool of 6 bidders for the LCA contract, it begs the question why whispers are going around about FA-50 winning the bid. Clearly there must be a side deal going on behind the scenes as clearly the FA-50 is a poor choice and here are the reasons why :-
1. The FA-50 flight range is limited to a distance of 1800 kilometers. The reason for such a short range is that it is designed to protect the South Korean air space which is much smaller in size compared to the Malaysian airspace. The distance from Seoul in the north to Busan in the south is a mere 325 kilometers which is slightly longer than the distance between Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru. If the FA-50 were to take off from Butterworth to Kota Kinabalu (a distance of approximately 1850 kilometers) for a mission it would run out of fuel before it reached its destination.
2. The FA-50s utilizes the EL/M2032 fire control radar system which is manufactured by Israeli defence products provider Elta Systems, a subsidiary or Israel Aerospace Industries. This feature could potentially be a deal breaker as Malaysia does not have official diplomatic or trade ties with Israel.
3. KAI which manufactures the aircraft have promised they will work with local partners Kemalak Systems Sdn Bhd to establish a final assembly line in the manufacturing process, should it win the bid. This incentive is not as strong as offers from other bidders who are offering to boost the local aerospace industry with the development of sophisticated Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facilities.
4. KAI is reported to have sold 12 FA-50s to the Phillipines, 14 AT-50s to Thailand and 22 TA-50s to Indonesia. The AT-50 is the advanced trainer variant while the TA-50 is the light attack variant of the FA-50. Malaysia may well be making the job of defending its territory more difficult by buying the very same fighter jets that are already being used by its closest neighbours.
5. KAI has been the target of hackers most notably from North Korea who broke into their network in June and had access to sensitive information about defense systems including those of the FA-50. Several other high tech South Korean companies have been targeted as North Korea continues to unleash its keyboard army on its southern neighbor. Many still recall the North Korea spy agency which operated under the name of Glocom which sold military equipment out of a shophouse in Kuala Lumpur are still fresh in the minds of Malaysian security personnel.
The Burke Chair at CSIS is publishing a report by an affiliate of the organization. Dr. Zo…