South Korea chooses the Embraer C-390 as its new tactical transport aircraft

The Brazilian aircraft won the Large Transport Aircraft II (LTA II) competition against the C-130J, from Lockheed Martin and the A400M, from Airbus. US$545 million agreement should initially provide three aircraft

Embraer won the Large Transport Aircraft II (LTA II) competition from South Korea and will supply the C-390 Millennium tactical transport jet to the country’s Air Force, local news agency Yonhap revealed on Monday.

The competition included the participation of Brazilian aircraft and the C-130J Hercules turboprops, from Lockheed Martin, and A400M Atlas, from Airbus. The initial value of the contract is 710 billion won, about US$545 million.

In a statement, Embraer stated that the contract will also include support services, training, ground support equipment and spare parts.

Neither the South Korean government nor Embraer have revealed the number of aircraft that will be ordered for this amount, but the likely number is three jets.

“We welcome the Republic of Korea Air Force to the growing number of air forces operating the C-390 Millennium – the most modern military tactical transport aircraft. Day after day, the aircraft has proven its capability to complete a wide range of missions with great efficiency, serviceability and speed,” said Bosco da Costa Jr, President and CEO, Embraer Defense & Security.

South Korea is the C-390 Millennium’s first customer in Asia (Embraer)
The KC-390 PT-ZNG at Waterkloof Air Base, South Africa (Defence Corporate Communication/SAAF)

“Through this project, capabilities in air transport and peace keeping operations are expected to be enhanced,” the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said in a statement sent to the news agency.

The first C-390 is expected to be delivered in 2026 and will have the support of South Korean companies that signed a partnership with Embraer in 2022.

Unlikely victory

The announcement of Embraer’s victory in the LTA II competition is surprising since South Korea is a major strategic ally of the United States in the Pacific.

The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) is already an operator of the C-130J, of which it has four aircraft, in addition to 12 old Hercules.

Republic of Korea Air Force C-130J Hercules (weichen_kh)

The C-390 has a greater payload capacity than the C-130J (26 tons) and superior performance in almost all parameters. The Hercules, however, is an aircraft widely used around the world and has the support of the United States government to obtain new contracts.

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South Korea will be the first C-390 Millennium customer in Asia and will bring total orders and purchase commitments to 40 aircraft, if the three units are confirmed.

To date, the airlifter has 19 orders from Brazil, five from Portugal and two from Hungary, in addition to being selected by the Netherlands (five aircraft), Austria (four planes) and the Czech Republic (two jets).