KHI prepares bid for UH-X

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Kawasaki decides on domestic solution to meet Japanese army requirement

Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) is preparing to offer a new utility version of its indigenous OH-1 scout helicopter as a potential replacement for Japan’s Bell/Fuji UH-1Js.

Industry sources say KHI has decided to offer an indigenous solution for Japan’s UH-X programme rather than propose licence-producing a Western-developed helicopter. The company has already held talks with Western manufacturers interested in helping it develop a utility helicopter based on the OH-1.

Sources say the design will require significant enhancements, including a new cabin, drive train, transmission and avionics, and caution that the project could prove overly ambitious.

KHI has partnerships with Agusta­Westland and Euro­copter and is now discussing poten­tial co-operation with Sikorsky. The US company traditionally part­ners Mitsu­bishi Heavy Industries, which is not pursuing the UH-X requirement. Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI) is also prepar­ing to compete, with either a new variant of the UH-1J or a development of Bell/Agusta’s AB139.

Sources say the UH-X is crucial for KHI and FHI, because it is uncertain that Japan will continue to support three helicopter manufacturers over the long term. KHI needs to win the new contract to improve the efficiency of its OH-1 line, which produces just two aircraft per year, while FHI could be forced to close its helicopter division if utility helicopter production switches to its rival.

FHI already faces the likely closure of its Boeing AH-64D Apache attack helicopter assembly line, with the programme facing a fresh termination proposal.

Budget constraints are forcing the Japanese army to reconsider its requirement for new attack helicopters and have delayed the start of the UH-X acquisition until at least 2010. However, the army began studying potential UH-1J replacements earlier this year and is expected to decide on an acquisition strategy within the next year.

BRENDAN SOBIE/SINGAPORE

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