Amid growing tensions in the region, South Korea ended 2023 on a high note by receiving its first TA-50 Block 2 aircraft, ordered a couple of years ago. The Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) has received its first TA-50 “Golden Eagle” Block 2 light attack and trainer aircraft from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), the Defense Acquisition Program Administration announced in a statement (DAPA) .
On January 1, DAPA said the delivery had taken place on December 28, 2023, and that the delivery is part of a deal worth KRW 1 trillion ($764.7 million) initiated in 2020 to provide RoKAF with TA-50 Block 2 aircraft. Previous reports had indicated that the service had ordered at least 20 aircraft in this advanced variant.
The TA-50 is better equipped to carry out light attack missions than the original T-50 aircraft, which is purely a trainer variant. The TA-50 is equipped with an IAI Elta EL/M-2032 radar and can use the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. The TA-50 also has upgraded variants available to make the aircraft even more powerful.
The TA-50 Block 2 aircraft is an updated version of the TA-50 Block 1, of which 22 units are already in service with the ROKAF. Therefore, the first 22 TA-50 Block 1 aircraft in service with the RoKAF will be complemented by the new aircraft. According to DAPA, these 22 Block 1 aircraft were “insufficient” for fighter pilot training, which is their primary purpose.
Additionally, Block 2 outperforms Block 1 in several ways, according to DAPA. “Compared to Block 1, it is equipped with JDAM precision-guided bombs and upgraded night vision devices to improve night flight capabilities.” Furthermore, “to improve the defense of the aircraft, the countermeasures system (CMDS) and the RWR radar warning receiver were installed,” the South Korean agency said. However, the TA-50 Block 2 remains a trainer with attack capability that follows in the wake of the FA-50 version which is a light attack aircraft purchased from Poland .
With the South Korean Air Force having next-generation fighters such as the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lighting II in service, the Northrop F-5F Tiger II aircraft, currently used to train pilots, is expected to be replaced by the TA- 50 additional Block 2s. But the news comes at a time of high tension with North Korea.
A series of military maneuvers undertaken by South Korea in the new year have been sharply criticized by North Korea, which also warned that it could increase the likelihood of conflict between the two countries this year. Tension on the Korean Peninsula has increased after joint exercises between South Korean and US forces near the North Korean border.
North Korea responded to these exercises today with a series of artillery fires, firing more than 200 shots near the disputed maritime border with South Korea, giving rise to another escalation of tension. North Korea’s fire caused no civilian or military damage in the South, Seoul said, although some South Korean islands near the maritime border are on alert and ready to evacuate civilian populations.