SEOUL — After a potential helicopter deal in the Philippines fell from its reach, Korea Aerospace Industries has presented a new concept of its KUH-1 utility helicopter’s heavily armed version for the international market.
The KUH-1E, an export variant of the troop-carrying Surion helicopter, was unveiled at the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition, or ADEX, which is taking place Oct. 15-20.
“The KUH-1E has been in development for four years to meet the requirements of foreign customer nations,” Kim Ji-hyung, spokesman for KAI, told Defense News. “Not every country [can] afford both utility helicopters and attack helicopters. For those customers, the KUH-1E is expected to be an optimal solution.”
The South Korean company did not reveal specific target customers, but indicated the armed helicopter would be able to compete in the markets of Southeast Asia, South America and Africa.
Industry sources point to Indonesia as one of the KUH-1E targets, as the Southeast Asian nation has a requirement for 100 medium-lift helicopters and is a key arms trade partner of South Korea.
The KUH-1E mock-up on display features a weapons mount equipped with rockets, missiles and a gun pod. Stub wings mounted forward of the door can carry either Hellfire or Spike anti-tank missiles; pods for domestically built 2.75-inch rockets; and infrared-homing air-to-air missiles.
The attack version is also fitted with the Garmin G3000, a large touch-screen, glass-integrated avionics system. It can also be equipped with TACS II, the newest version of traffic collision avoidance systems. The helicopter’s nose features a three-dimensional weather radar, according to KAI. The helicopter has a maximum takeoff weight of 8,709 kilograms.
Last year, the Philippines showed interest in buying a score of Surion helicopters as an alternative to a botched deal to procure 16 Bell EPI helicopters from Canada. But the government canceled its plan to purchase the South Korean helicopter, jointly built by Airbus Helicopters, after the fatal crash of an MUH-1, the marine variant of the Surion. Instead, the Philippines ordered Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
“The competition for the Philippines Army was affected by the crash of an MUH-1, not because of the rotorcraft’s performances,” said a KAI source involved in the Surion export project, speaking on condition of anonymity. “As the reported defects and problems have been cleared, the Surion still has competitiveness in terms of price and performances.”
KAI also displayed at ADEX a concept for a marine attack helicopter to compete against the Bell AH-1Z Viper for a deal with the South Korean Marine Corps, which wants to buy 24 attack helicopters for amphibious assault operations.
Powered by a twin turbo-shaft engine with 1,800-plus horsepower, the marine attack version is to be armed with Lockheed Martin’s AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missile; the Mistral ATAM air-to-air missile developed by MBDA; 2.75-inch non-guided/guided rockets; and the 20mm turret gun, according to KAI.
South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration issued a request for information early last year, but the agency hasn’t decided whether the helicopters will be purchased through a competition open to foreign offerings or only to locally developed bids.
Boeing is also vying for a contract with its AH-64 Apache model.
“The concept of the Marine Attack Helicopter on display showcases KAI will be able to meet the Marine Corps requirements,” said Kim, KAI’s spokesman. The company is conducting feasibility studies into Surion’s attack concepts.
Javier Ball, the international campaign manager for Asia at Bell, is confident the AH-1Z’s inherent shipborne operational capability will serve the Marine Corps well.
“Anybody can land on a ship, but leaving on a ship is where we think marinization comes into effect. That starts with the design of this aircraft,” Ball said in an interview with Defense News. “Aircraft designed to be operated on land can land on a ship, but they lose some capability when they try to operate aboard the ship.”
As the U.S. military and its regional allies put an emphasis on shipborne operations, the use of a common attack helicopter model for amphibious missions would benefit joint efforts, Ball added.
Light, armed and taking flight
In the meantime, a light, armed version of the Surion performed flight demonstrations during the show. Based on the Airbus H155, the Light Armed Helicopter, or LAH, is under development by KAI and Airbus Helicopters.
The LAH development is a parallel effort with the Light Civil Helicopter, or LCH. KAI plans to develop the 4.5-metric-ton LCH by 2021 and then modify it into the LAH by 2023.
KAI rolled out an LAH prototype in December, and the helo completed its maiden flight in July.
The LAH is armed with the turreted 20mm Gatling gun under its nose. The aircraft is also mounted with 70mm rockets, missile early warning systems, and laser/radar warning receivers.
KAI plans to build about 200 LAHs to replace Bell AH-1 Cobras and older MD 500 helicopters flown by the South Korean Army.
Jeff Jeong was the South Korea correspondent for Defense News.