SEOUL — South Korea selected Boeing’s new Apache helicopter as the winner of its $1.6 billion “AH-X” deal to buy 36 heavy attack helicopters.
The AH-64E Guardian, the latest Apache aircraft, beat Bell’s AH-1Z and the T-129 built by Turkish Aerospace Industries, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said April 17.
“All the three aircraft were assessed to have latest technologies, but the AH-64E was evaluated to have better performance than the other competitors,” DAPA spokesman Baek Yoon-hyung said in a press briefing.
Baek said the Guardian was given higher ratings in the evaluation of maximum takeoff, weapons load and target acquisition, although the aircraft was assessed to incur higher maintenance costs than the other candidates.
Boeing will deliver the AH-64Es from 2016 to 2018 to replace the older fleet of Bell AS-1 Cobra helicopters. The aircraft is equipped with a 30mm M230 chain gun and AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles, as well as AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and Hydra 70 laser-guided rockets.
“From the older AH-64A to the latest AH-64E, the Apache helicopter has proved its capabilities in the battlefields,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Kim Youn-hwan, director of DAPA’s aircraft programs bureau. “U.S. and many other ground forces operate the aircraft, which means we could get better logistics support.”
The AH-64E being delivered to the South Korean Army will be fitted with an air-to-air Stinger missile system, as well as a tactical air navigation system and high frequency radios, Kim said, declining to elaborate how many Longbow fire control radars were bought.
“The U.S. Army has an operational concept of equipping every three or six Apaches with the Longbow radar, and we will have a concept not so different from it,” he said, brushing off speculation that the U.S. government might have excluded key items, including the Longbow radar, to sell the aircraft more cheaply.
The Apache selection came at a time when the military tension between both Koreas has reached a new peak with Pyongyang’s repeated threats of a war. North Korea has also threatened to fire a 4,000-kilometer-range Musudan missile that could reach American bases in Guam.
The Apache will largely be tasked with destroying North Korean tanks or other armored vehicles before they cross the military demarcation line in case of war.
“North Korea is believed to have armored forces twice as many as South Korea, and they could attempt to occupy Seoul in case of an emergency,” said Shin In-kyun, head of Korea Defense Network, a Seoul-based online defense think tank. “When we have the Apache with the Longbow radar, we can detect and target ground targets across a mountain. That could be a “shock and awe” to the North’s forces.”
The aircraft is also to be used in thwarting a possible infiltration by North Korean commandos into the shores of the South.
To beef up its asymmetrical capability, the North is believed to have built a forward-deployed naval base of air-cushion landing craft near the western sea border between the two Koreas. The base, just 50 kilometers north of the South’s Baengryeong Island, is estimated to accommodate about 70 landing craft with a maximum speed of 90 kilometers per hour.
Amphibious Assault Helo
In bids to help enhance the South Korean military’s landing maneuvers against the North, the DAPA decided to modify the Surion utility helicopter into an amphibious version to be operated by the Marine Corps.
Surion was jointly developed by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and Eurocopter under a 2006 deal to replace the aging fleet of UH-1Hs.
The DAPA picked KAI as preferred bidder to build 40 amphibious assault helicopters to be delivered to the Marine Corps by 2023.
Under the deal, valued at 800 billion won ($710 million), KAI will modify the utility helo into an amphibious version by the end of 2015.
“The deal is a big step forward developing our independent landing maneuvers,” a Marine Corps spokesman said. “With the deployment of those helicopters, our operational range and mobility could be redoubled.”
KAI expects the Surion could take up 30 percent of the projected global demand of 1,000 utility helicopters over the next 25 years.
Following its maiden flight in March 2010, the aircraft flew about 2,000 test sorties. Last December, the 8.7-metric-ton class helicopter went through 50 flight tests under extreme weather conditions in Alaska. The helicopter can carry 11 troops and hover at 9,258 feet with a climbing speed of 500 feet per minute.