KAI Unveils First ‘Gap-Filler’ Light Fighter for Poland

 - March 11, 2023, 6:42 AM
Poland's initial batch of "gap-filler" FA-50GFs are being drawn from ROKAF production. (Photo: KAI)

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has unveiled the first FA-50 light fighter/attack aircraft for Poland. The East European nation signed for 48 FA-50s in July 2022, making the first down-payment in November. Under a $705 million contract KAI is delivering a batch of 12 aircraft that it had been manufacturing for the Republic of Korea Air Force in order to kick-start the Polish air force’s replacement program for its aging and difficult-to-support MiG-29s and Sukhoi Su-22Ms.

These aircraft are designated FA-50GF—for “gap-filler”—and are essentially Block 10 aircraft with AAQ-33 Sniper targeting pod capability. They have NATO-compatible IFF and are fitted with Link 16 datalink. Armament options include AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles (AAMs) and AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles (ASMs). The first two aircraft are scheduled for handover in August, with the remaining 10 to be delivered to Poland by 2025.

The first group of Polish pilots arrived in South Korea in late February to begin a 23-week training course with the ROKAF’s 1st Fighter Wing at Gwangju, where they will fly the T-50 Golden Eagle and TA-50, before conversion to the FA-50 fighter derivative. A second group of pilots is to follow shortly.

Between November 2025 and September 2028, KAI is scheduled to deliver the main $2.3 billion batch of 36 FA-50PLs. This version, which equates to the Block 20, introduces a host of new features including a conformal fuel tank, retractable refueling probe, APG-83 AESA radar, and the ability to carry a much wider range of weapons, including beyond-visual range AAMs and medium-range ASMs. It is expected that the FA-50GFs will be raised to this standard in due course.

Included in the overall FA-50 deal are spares, support, and simulators, all due for delivery by 2025. Another aspect of the deal is the creation of a service center, which is due to begin maintenance activities in 2026.

With the remaining MiG-29s now concentrated at Malbork, work is now underway at the 23rd Tactical Air Base in Minsk Mazowiecki, which will be the first Polish base for the FA-50. Further basing details have yet to be announced, although it is likely that Malbork will host FA-50s. The current base of the last Su-22Ms—Swidwin— is earmarked as the second Polish F-35 base following Lask.