January 16, 2009: The new South Korean T-50 jet trainer is being reconfigured as a light attack aircraft. Some $300 million is being spent to convert four T-50s to A-50s. T-50 development began in the 1990s, at a cost of over two billion dollars. The first test flight took place in 2002. The 13 ton aircraft is actually a light fighter, and can fly at supersonic speeds. With some added equipment (radars and fire control), the T-50 was designed so that it could be quickly turned into a combat aircraft, the A-50. This is what is being done now. This version carries a 20mm auto-cannon and up to four tons of smart bombs and missiles. The T-50 can stay in the air about four hours per sortie and has a service life of 8,000 hours in the air. South Korea apparently has several large sales deals in the works. At $20 million each, the T-50 is one of the more competitive jet trainers on the market. About 100-150 trainers are bought each year by the world's air forces.
The A-50 version is a very competitive light combat aircraft as well, and South Korea plans to replace it's elderly F-5s with up to 150 T-50s. The availability of the A-50 will make it easier to sell the T-50 (which can be built with some of the A-50 features, as the customer desires.) The South Korean Air Force has already ordered 83 T-50s (including 22 equipped as A-50s.)