South Korea's Defense Acquisition Program Administration has selected Korea Aerospace Industries to develop a helicopter for civil and military purposes. (Korea Aerospace Industries Concept)
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SEOUL — Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has been tapped to develop a 10,000-pound helicopter to be used for civil and military purposes, according to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).
The agency held a top executive council Tuesday to select KAI as preferred bidder for the project. KAI beat Korean Air, the national flag-carrier involved in licensed production of military helicopter and aircraft parts.
It is the second helicopter project for KAI, which developed the medium-weight Surion utility helicopter with Eurocopter.
KAI will select a foreign partner in coming months to jointly build the Light Civil Helicopter (LCH) for maritime surveillance and transport purposes by 2020. The LCH is subsequently to be modified into a military version — the Light Armed Helicopter (LAH) — by 2022 to replace the aging fleet of 500MDs and AS-1s.
“A final contract for the LCH/LAH development is scheduled for November in close consultations with the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy,” DAPA spokesman Baek Yoon-hyung said in a briefing. “The project will not only help upgrade our defense capability but also improve the quality of our aerospace industry to a greater extent.”
The project will involve more than 1 trillion won (US $974 million) in fresh investments, the spokesman said, adding the costs are expected to be funded by the government, KAI and a foreign partner.
KAI said the dual development of the LCH and LAH will help increase commonality of components up to 60 percent, leading to stable logistics support and reducing development and maintenance costs.
“A joint development of the LCH and LAH is estimated to help reduce overall costs by 340 billion won,” KAI spokesman Lee Myung-hwan said.
The company aims to sell 1,000 aircraft, of which about 600 could be sold overseas, according to Lee.
The helicopter project is projected to generate 33 trillion won worth of domestic production and may contribute up to 50 trillion won for the economy, with some 160,000 workers being employed for the project, he added.
Among the candidates for foreign partnership are AgustaWestland, Airbus Helicopter, Bell and Sikorsky, according to KAI officials.
Airbus Helicopter, formerly known as Eurocopter, is referred to as a leading contender, as it has a record of cooperating with KAI to develop the Surion.
KAI CEO Ha Sung-yong said recently that he received assurances from the European company that there will be no limits to where the new helicopter will be sold, unlike Surion, which is restricted to sales in Europe.
Airbus Helicopter is offering an enlarged AS365 Dauphin, while Bell is proposing a largely new helicopter. Sikorsky is offering an S-76 with bigger fuselage, and AgustaWestland is proposing its AW169 model, according to DAPA officials. ■