Taiwan has begun receiving new Apache attack helicopters that will work side-by-side with the Super Cobra, shown here. (Wendell Minnick/Staff)
TAIPEI — Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan are seeking a variety of helicopters, including the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, to offset China’s growing maritime threat in the East China and South China seas, and to deal with other security issues, such as humanitarian and disaster relief missions.
The stronger trend in Asia appears to be toward procuring utility helicopters, but attack helicopters are also in demand.
Japan and Singapore have expressed interest in the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey, which takes off like a helicopter and flies like a plane.
For Japan, China’s recent agitation over the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands (claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands) has raised fears China might attempt to seize the islands by force.
This has put Japan’s Self-Defense Forces on notice: Improve range and capacity in its vertical-lift capability or risk losing the Senkakus, and possibly part of the Ryukyu Island chain, to China.
Japanese defense industry and government reports indicate the country is looking to procure 17 V-22s within the next five years.
In February at the Singapore Airshow, the US Marine Corps showed off its MV-22B. The message was clear from Bell sources and Singapore government officials that the Osprey is on the Singapore military’s to-buy list. The problem for Singapore is how to use Osprey to its full potential.
Singapore does not have an expeditionary force capability, though the military participates in regional humanitarian and disaster relief missions. Any military missions beyond maritime security would have to include Indonesia and Malaysia.
Japan has a UH-X program designed to replace the Ground Self-Defense Force’s aging UH-1H/J utility helicopter fleet. Kawasaki Heavy Industries is in charge of the UH-X utility helicopter development program, which is expected to begin in 2017. The UH-X requirements are similar to modern UH-1 helicopters in range, speed and troop transport capacity. Bell Helicopter sources have said the new UH-1Y four-blade helicopter could fulfill UH-X requirements.
Japan also is looking at acquiring additional Sikorsky S-76D helicopters for its Coast Guard, a Sikorsky source said. The Coast Guard has 11 on order, but the total requirement is 18 and additional S-76s are expected in the near term.
In 2001, Japan’s AH-X competition for replacement of its Bell AH-1S Cobra attack helicopter came down to the Boeing AH-64 Apache beating the Bell AH-1Z Super Cobra. In 2006, Japan’s Fuji Heavy Industries began licensed production of 50 Apaches.
South Korea’s Navy has eight AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat helicopters on order for maritime operations, beating out the Sikorsky MH-60. The AW159 will serve as the Navy’s multimission helicopter, capable of handling anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare, search-and-rescue and maritime surveillance missions. Deliveries of four AW159s will take place in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
The AW159s will join AgustaWestland Super Lynx ASW helicopters in service, along with planned procurements of the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI)-designed KUH-1 Surion in both the utility and ASW role. A KAI source at the Singapore Airshow in February said the Surion will also serve in the Army and Air Force for utility missions.
In 2013, the South Korean government announced it would procure 36 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, beating out the Bell UH-1Z Super Cobra, AgustaWestland A129 Mangusta and Turkish Aerospace Industries’ T-129. Deliveries are expected from 2016 to 2018.
A defense industry source said South Korea is holding a contest to fill its light armed helicopter (LAH) requirement to replace its Cobra attack helicopters and OH-58 reconnaissance/attack helicopters. Boeing’s AH-6I Little Bird, Sikorsky’s S-76, Airbus Helicopter’s AS365 Dauphin and AgustaWestland’s AW169 are potential competitors. KAI also has an LAH design, and it might collaborate with a foreign company in a joint venture.
Taiwan will begin receiving 60 Sikorsky UH-60M utility helicopters at the end of the year. The helicopters will replace Army Bell UH-1H utility helicopters.
Deliveries of 30 Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters have already begun. The new Apaches will work side-by-side with the Army’s 60 Bell AH-1W Super Cobras. Boeing began Apache deliveries in November.
On April 24, an Apache crashed onto the roof of a building in Longtan, Taoyuan County, during a training mission. Neither pilot was seriously injured, but the military indicated the aircraft was damaged beyond repair.
With the conclusion of the delivery of the Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, Taiwan’s military has expressed little interest in future procurements.
Over the past 10 years, the military has received nine CH-47SD Chinook cargo helicopters for the Army and three Eurocopter EC225 Super Pumas for Air Force search-and-rescue missions.
The Air Force has a contract option to buy 17 more Super Pumas if funds become available, but the military is struggling to modernize while reducing its size. ■