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Wednesday, January 25, 2012



Korea is expected to export T-50 Golden Eagles to Iraq, as the Middle Eastern country seeks to import Korea's advanced trainer jets as part of efforts to rebuild its war-torn army.
The deal is expected to pave the way for Korea to supply next-generation military jet trainers to other countries, demonstrating its superiority over rival jets, such as the M-346 by Italy's Alenia Aermacchi.
Iraq's official request for the acquisition of T-50 trainer jets was made during the Korea-Iraq summit in Seoul on Feb. 24, in which the two countries struck a $3.55-billion deal to develop oil reserves in southern Iraq and construct social infrastructure in Iraq.
At the summit, President Lee Myung-bak and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to give South Korean firms the right to participate in rebuilding projects in Iraq.
``When the MOU was signed in late February, Talabani asked Lee to sell T-50 trainer jets and other advanced communication equipment to the Middle Eastern country,'' a source close to the deal told The Korea Times, asking not to be named. A briefing on the T-50, which can be converted to light fighters, was given to the Iraqi president.
``Once the terms and conditions of the sale, including prices, are met, they agreed to include them in a binding contract,'' he added.
In January, Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi visited Seoul to inspect the T-50 and said that a defense expert in his entourage had test-flown the jet in Korea and expressed satisfaction.
Currently, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), Korea's only aerospace firm, is drawing up a sales proposal for Iraq, based on which the two countries will start negotiations, according to the source. When contacted, the KAI refused to comment on the deal.
``Since Iraq lost many of its trainer jets following the U.S. military attack against the country, the Middle Eastern nation is eager to purchase high-quality jets to rebuild its army and air force,'' the source said. `` Iraq acknowledged that the T-50 has high quality for its price.''
Given that the negotiations will be carried out on the sidelines of the MOU signed between the heads of the two states, the chances are that the deal will be carried out in the form of either a non-bidding contract or a barter trade.
During his four-day state visit, Talibani agreed to allow Korean firms to develop oil reserves in Iraq's Basra region, where most Iraqi oil is produced. In return, Seoul will help build power plants and other forms of public infrastructure.
Baghdad plans to spend some $150 billion on rehabilitation projects over the next eight years. Seoul hopes more South Korean businesses will be able to have more opportunities there.
The source said that once it gets oil fields in the Basra region, Korea will have access to an additional 100,000 to 200,000 barrel per day. Currently, the country has only 60,000 barrels available per day.
The news that Iraq wants Korea's supersonic jets came a month after KAI failed to win a contract to supply the T-50 supersonic trainer to the UAE. The UAE selected the M-346 as the preferred aircraft in the $1.3-billion deal, which included the building of 48 jets.
A T-50's flyaway cost is set at 20 to 25 billion won ($13.5 to $16.9 million), while the M-346 costs 18 to 20 billion won.

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