Correction: Airbus has not confirmed its H145 multipurpose helicopter will be chosen to compete in Japan’s search for a new attack helicopter.
TOKYO — Japan is requiring its new attack helicopters be equipped for shipboard operations, as the country looks to replace its legacy Bell/Fuji Heavy Industries AH-1S Cobra attack helos.
Japan’s request for information issued earlier this year called for the new helicopters to be marinized and able to operate from “expeditionary airfields or sea bases,”, said retired Lt. Gen. George Trautman, an adviser to Bell.
Speaking to Defense News at the Japan International Aerospace Exhibition in Tokyo, the former U.S. Marine aviator and commander of Marine Corps aviation said the RFI requested pricing and information for “30, 40 and 50” helicopters. He added that a request for proposals is expected in the next three to four months.
Apart from Bell’s AH-1Z Viper offer, Japanese firm Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is proposing its UH-60J/JA Black Hawk helicopter fitted with stub wings and weapons stations. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has produced several variants of the Black Hawk and SH-60 Seahawk for the Japan Self-Defense Forces under licence with Sikorsky since the 1990s.
European manufacturer Airbus confirmed to Defense News that it is not offering its Tiger attack helicopter, and has not made a final decision on its offering. The company already has a footprint in Japan, as local emergency medical services operate the civilian H145, manufactured by Airbus. The company has also announced it is adding a maintenance, repair and overhaul complex adjacent to its existing facility in Kobe, Japan.
Other possible contenders for the competition include Boeing with the AH-64E Apache as well as Italy’s Leonardo with its AW249 attack helicopter currently in development.
Japan already uses the Apache, with 13 license-produced AH-64Ds currently in service. However, this was a much smaller number than the 62 helicopters it originally planned to manufacture, and like neighboring South Korea, Japan is reportedly unimpressed with the performance of the Apache’s Longbow radar.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. He wrote his first defense-related magazine article in 1998 before pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Following a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for several media outlets.