PARIS — Airbus Helicopters and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) agreed to start serial production of their jointly developed Light Armed Helicopter, Airbus said in a statement on Thursday.
Deliveries to the Republic of Korea Army of an initial 10 helicopters will begin in December 2024, with follow-on orders to continue into the next decade, Airbus spokeswoman Belinda Ng said in an emailed response to questions.
South Korea awarded a contract to KAI for the first batch of attack helicopters in December, with the deal valued at 302 billion won, or $229 million, according to the Korea Herald. Airbus declined to confirm the amount, with Ng saying there had been no official disclosure of the contract value.
The Light Armed Helicopter, based on the Airbus H155 platform, will replace the Korean armed forces’ aging AH-1S Cobra and MD 500 helicopters. KAI will produce the aircraft at its facility in Sacheon, South Korea, with Airbus Helicopters delivering the kits required for mass production. The agreement foresees a next phase of production ramp up, Airbus said.
The companies also agreed to extend their joint Korean Utility Helicopter program to cover a wide range of operational requirements for military and civilian markets. That follows the introduction of new KUH variants, including the Marine Attack Helicopter and the Mine Countermeasure Helicopter.
“KAI is a long-time trusted partner with whom we have successfully developed several helicopter programmes,” Matthieu Louvot, Airbus Helicopters executive vice president for programs, said in a statement. “We are happy to strengthen this strategic partnership with these agreements, where we will secure the delivery of these two highly performing platforms for many years to come.”
Airbus and KAI started their industrial partnership in 2006 with the KUH, followed by the development of the Light Attack Helicopter. The LAH prototype first flew in July 2019 and was qualified in 2022, after testing for combat suitability in all-weather conditions.
The companies also cooperate on the Light Civil Helicopter, like the LAH based on the H155 platform, with first deliveries in October 2022. KAI has sought to maximize common subsystems and parts on the civilian and military versions in a bid to reduce production and operating costs.
The Light Armed Helicopter, with a specified maximum take-off gross weight of 10,846 lbs, is powered by twin turboshaft engines from Safran, and will be equipped with a three-barreled 20mm turret gun, air-to-ground missiles and 70mm rockets.
The goal of the project was to develop a “cutting-edge armed helicopter suitable for the modern battlefield,” according to KAI.
Rudy Ruitenberg is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He started his career at Bloomberg News and has experience reporting on technology, commodity markets and politics.