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DSA 2024 : Malaysia announce imminent arrival of new Korean FA-50M in Royal Malaysian Air force.

| Defense News Aerospace 2024

During the DSA 2024 exhibition held in Malaysia from May 6 to May 9, 2024, the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) announced the upcoming arrival of the FA-50M, an improved and modernized version of the FA-50 aircraft developed by Korea Aerospace Industries. However, no information leaked during the exhibition about the number of aircraft already in service with the RMAF, but some sources provide more details.
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KAI FA-50 Fighting Eagle of ROK Air Force (Picture source: Republic of Korea Armed Forces)

The FA-50M is an enhanced version of the FA-50, which itself is a multi-role light fighter developed from the T-50 Golden Eagle by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) with Lockheed Martin's collaboration. The "M" variant includes further upgrades and modifications aimed at boosting its capabilities primarily in combat and operational effectiveness. However, specific details about what distinguishes the FA-50M from the standard FA-50 might vary as they depend on the contracts and specific requirements of the purchasing country.

According to the RMAF during DSA 2024, the FA-50M will be able to carry 2 AIM-9 air-to-air missiles, 2 External Fuel Tanks (EFT) with a 20-minute fuel reserve for an action radius of 430 NM. The second configuration, oriented towards ground attack, consists of two AIM-9s, 2 MK-82 500lb bombs, with conversion to JDAM possible, and an EFT with a 20-minute fuel reserve. This air-to-ground configuration will have an effective radius of 335 NM.

The FA-50M is announced with an empty weight of 14,726 lbs and a maximum takeoff weight of 26,929 lbs; the FA-50 can carry a payload of 12,203 lbs.

In May 2023, Malaysia and KAI signed a contract worth nearly 4 billion RM for 18 units of the FA-50 Block 20, which was later named FA-50M (Malaysia). According to senior KAI officials, the RMAF will acquire the most advanced variant of the light combat aircraft.

The FA-50M variant purchased by Malaysia is more advanced and performs better than the FA-50 operated by the Air Force of the Republic of Korea and other regional countries, including Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Currently, only the RMAF and the Polish Air Force have opted for the latest variant of the "Fighting Eagle." When asked about the delivery date of the 18 Malaysian FA-50M units, Mr. Park stated that the RMAF would begin receiving its South Korean-made light combat aircraft starting in October 2026, with deliveries continuing until June 2027, when the last of the 18 combat aircraft units would be delivered to the country. He also stated that the Malaysian variant of the FA-50 would have capabilities similar to those of the FA-50 purchased by Poland, with both air forces operating the most advanced variants of the FA-50, which are equipped with the advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) system and Sniper ATP (Advanced Targeting Pod).

In addition to the PhantomStrike AESA radar developed by RTX (formerly Raytheon) and Sniper ATP, the Malaysian light combat aircraft FA-50M is also expected to be equipped with a Chobham in-flight refueling probe for long-range missions. The latest variant of the FA-50 acquired by Malaysia is also capable of carrying precision-guided bombs and other smart weapons. On the sidelines of DSA 2024, KAI announced that negotiations for a batch of 18 new FA-50Ms would be opened in 2026, to bring the Malaysian fleet to 36 aircraft. Negotiations are scheduled as soon as the first FA-50M aircraft are delivered to the Royal Malaysian Air Force in the second half of 2026, with the delivery of the first batch scheduled to start in October 2026 and end in June 2027, according to the schedule made public by KAI.

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