Unexpected F-22 killers? Deliveries of the FA-50 aircraft to Poland continue

 18. 11. 2023      Category: Air force

On Sunday, 5 November, a Korean Boeing 747 transport plane landed at Warsaw's airport, with two more KAI FA-50GF trainer-combat aircraft. A total of 10 of the 12 ordered aircraft are thus already in Poland. They are being delivered in the times when we read an incredible story: an FA-50 of the Philippine Air Forces claimed a F-22 Raptor kill during an August exercise.

Poland to receive 12 FA-50GF and 36 FA-50PL

In September 2022 Poland ordered In total 12 FA-50GF training and light attack aircraft representing the FA-50 Block 10 standard and 36 aircraft in the FA-50PL variant, to which the original FA-50GF aircraft are also to be upgraded in the future. The FA-50GF will be fully delivered in 2023, while the FA-50PL is to be delivered between 2025 and 2028.

Picture: KAI FA-50 Fighting Eagle | Korea Aerospace Industries
Picture: KAI FA-50 Fighting Eagle | Korea Aerospace Industries

As in previous cases, the aircraft were delivered from the Warsaw airport to the 23rd Tactical Air Base, where Korea Aerospace Industries' aircraft operations support office in Poland is located. There, the manufacturer's personnel are engaged in assembling the FA-50, checking the machines and preparing them for flight and user acceptance. More Korean aircraft can therefore be expected in the sky soon. By the end of the year, when deliveries are due to be completed, there is therefore one such delivery left to be made by the Korean manufacturer. 

KAI FA-50GF, the Gap-Filler

The KAI FA-50GF is a jet trainer-combat aircraft whose rather unique feature in this class of aircraft is the achievement of supersonic speed, reaching Mach 1.5 or more than 1,800 km/h. The aircraft has an operational range of 1,800 km and a maximum ceiling of 14,600 m. With a maximum take-off weight of 12.3 tonnes, the FA-50 can carry 4.5 tonnes of armament. These currently include air-to-ground bombs and guided missiles and AIM-9 Sidewinter short-range air-to-air guided missiles.

The designation FA-50GF comes from the English words for Gap-Filler, which means it is an interim variant that has been procured to speed up the training and introduction of the new machine to replace the MiG-29 fighters handed over to Ukraine. The target variant is designated FA-50PL and it will correspond to the Korean version designated FA-50 Block 20. It will be equipped with PhantomStrike active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars developed by Raytheon Intelligence and Space and AIM-120 AMRAAM radar-guided air-to-air missiles, the same as those used by Poland's F-16 Hawk. Also, 12 FA-50GF aircraft will be brought up to this standard.

The famous duel and kill of an F-22

And the FA-50 appears to be a very capable aircraft even now. The Philippines decided to purchase them and put them into service as the equivalent of light fighter-bomber/light attack aircraft. During the Cope Thunder 23 exercise which over the islands of Luzon earlier this year, the fifth-generation F-22A Raptor fighter of the US Air Force, considered one of the world's most modern and costly combat aircraft, was to be "shot down" by an FA-50.

The first round of the Cope Thunder 23 exercises took place in May and the next round in August. It is likely that the now very famous "kill" took place during Cope Thunder 23-2. According to the provided information one of the FA-50PHs managed to target an F-22 in close-range combat using an exercise infrared-guided AIM-9 Sidewinter missile. It acts like the homing warhead of a real missile, signalling whether the target was within the field of effective fire. 

The smaller and more manoeuvrable FA-50 must try find a proper way to attack its much more capable opponent. The F-22 is equiped with radar and armed with longer-range missiles, it has more power, higher ceiling, and it also has the stealth capabilities. The windows of opportunity any pilot of the FA-50 or similar aircraft can use to succeed against such enemy are very tight, and they require excellent pilot skills and good luck. On the other hand, the experience is clear: neither the non-5th generation jets are to be underestimated when it comes to real combat.

The qualities of the FA-50 stand confirmed. They will serve in Poland as light, fast and manoeuvrable aircraft, allowing both to train pilots at better costs than the F-16s, and to perform selected operational and even combat tasks. They are to be a low-cost aircraft for Air Policing, reconnaissance and surveillance tasks or ground force support. With the AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles and Raytheon's new AESA radar, the FA-50PL can become an excellent and somewhat unexpectedly capable opponent for the enemy.

The FA-50 specifications:

Length: 13.14 m
Wing span: 9.45 m
Height: 4.81 m
Weight (empty): 6.4 t
Weight (maximum take off): 12.21 t
Engine: 1× General Electric F404-GE-102 turbofan
Traction (dry / with afterburning): 53.07 / 78.7 kN
Maximum speed: 1 800 km/h
Service ceiling:
14.6 km
Range: 1 800 km
Cannon: A-50 3-barrel 20 mm rotary cannon
Missiles: AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missiles, KEPF-350K2 land-attack cruise missile, Naval Strike Missile anti-ship missile
Bombs: JDAM munitions, Mk.82 or Mk.83 bombs

 Author: Peter Bass