Kawasaki to develop new version of OH-1 helicopter

Singapore
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JDA seeks indigenous solution for large-scale replacement of army’s Fuji/Bell UH-1Js

Japan is expected to develop its indigenous Kawasaki OH-1 scout helicopter for utility roles, but is likely to select a Western model for a new training requirement.

Sources say the Japan Defence Agency (JDA) aims to secure funds for the utility development, while manufacturers are urging it to consider local production of a Western type, such as the AgustaWestland AW139 or Bell 412.

However, Tokyo’s decision to start funding development of a more powerful variant of the OH-1’s Mitsubishi TS1-10 engine in fiscal year 2006 indicates Kawasaki’s proposal will be approved.

The Japanese army requires more than 120 new utility helicopters to replace its Fuji/Bell UH-1Js from early next decade. A decision on launching indigenous development is expected within the next two years, although the acquisition will not be funded until at least 2010.

Kawasaki is proposing a new cabin, avionics, transmission and engines for the OH-1 utility variant. Despite partnering AgustaWestland in the local production of the EH101, the company will consider promoting the AW139 only if the JDA decides against an indigenous solution.

Sources say Fuji and Mitsubishi are also not interested unless it becomes clear a non-indigenous solution will be pursued. Fuji may again team with Bell and offer the 412 or propose an upgrade to the UH-1J if budget constraints prevent a new aircraft purchase.

Meanwhile, sources say the JDA is seeking funds in its FY07 budget to start a replacement programme for its Kawasaki/Hughes OH-6 trainers, with a tender expected later this year. Funds are expected to be provided initially for one to three helicopters for the navy, which has already received information on the AgustaWestland A109, Bell 429, Eurocopter EC135 and Kawasaki BK117 in response to a 15-aircraft requirement.

The air force and army will also eventually replace their OH-6s, but a proposal to pursue a joint 40-aircraft purchase appears to have been rejected.

BRENDAN SOBIE / SINGAPORE