In recent years, Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) has risen to prominence as many air forces across the globe sought cost-effective, efficient, and maneuverable jets. Compared to larger multirole or strike aircraft such as the American F/A-18 Hornet or Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum, LCAs are usually slower used for Counterinsurgency or close air support missions.

Out of the LCAs that arose in the last four decades, the South Korean FA-50 is currently dominating the market—sweeping contracts left and right worldwide. However, existing customers found unprecedented flaws in the beloved combat aircraft that could potentially catapult to its descent… and an opportunity that rising LCA stars wouldn’t want to miss to seize.

FA-50 Logistics Shortage

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) is one of the many customers of the FA-50, receiving its P18.9 billion-worth fleet (around $323 million at today’s rate) from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) between 2015 to 2017 and playing a significant role during the Marawi City campaign.

Since then, the LCA has become an important part of the PAF, but according to news reports, most aircraft have now been grounded. Out of twelve, only three remained operational because of spare parts logistics problems, causing a mandatory scheduled maintenance backlog.

“While it is true that we have FA-50 aircraft that are currently on non-operational status, most of them are just ongoing scheduled maintenance which is mandatory precautionary checks, and they will be back in the air soon,” said Air Force spokesperson Col. Ma Consuelo Castillo.

An FA-50PH escorting a presidential flight last week. (Image source: Twitter)

Besides the Philippines and South Korea, operators of the FA-50 include Indonesia, Iraq, Thailand, and Poland, which recently joined the Golden Eagle Club after signing an arms deal in July and are slated to receive 48 aircraft beginning next year. Joining soon will be Malaysia as it finalizes its agreement with KAI of 18 FA-50s and potentially Egypt. However, these two countries are also considering the newest LCA Tejas by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

The Current LCA “Golden Child”

KAI began the development of its indigenous supersonic aircraft in the late 1990s in collaboration with Lockheed Martin. T-50 Golden Eagle made its maiden flight in 2002 and entered active service three years later in the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) as an advanced jet trainer, one of the few supersonic trainers in the world. The development of variants came after that, starting with T-50B (serving ROKAF’s aerobatics team), TA-50 light attack, and the revered FA-50 LCA.

The T-50A was marketed for the US Air Force’s next-generation T-X trainer program in 2018 but lost the bidding to aerospace giant Boeing, BTX-1. Nonetheless, the exportation of the Golden Eagle pushed through, making its way into the air forces of Indonesia, followed by the Philippines and Thailand.