South Korean attack helicopter programme gains traction

Seoul
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South Korea is likely to issue a request for proposals (RFP) for its 36-aircraft attack helicopter (AHX) requirement in early 2012, with reduced numbers of US Army Boeing AH-64 Apaches on the peninsula adding impetus to the long-awaited acquisition.

The RFP is likely to be issued by Seoul's Defense Acquisition Program Administration in January, with responses required by April 2012, Boeing said.

A downselect decision is likely next July, with this to be followed by a contract award in October 2012.

Boeing is pitching its AH-64D Apache Block III (below) in the competition, with likely rivals to include the Bell AH-1Z Cobra, Eurocopter Tiger and the Turkish Aerospace Industries T129B.

Seoul has long been interested in the Apache, which the US Army has operated in South Korea for decades.

 boeing apache ah-64 block iii boeing
© Boeing

In recent years the US has reduced the number of Apaches in-country, owing to the demand for attack helicopters in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the event that hostilities were to break out with North Korea, Boeing foresees several missions for the eventual winner of AHX.

These include countering North Korean infiltration along South Korea's coastline and counter-penetration along the demilitarised zone that separates the two countries.

The aircraft could also be called on to fly combat missions behind enemy lines.

In addition, Seoul is interested in developing a light "Korea attack helicopter" (KAH), to replace its Hughes MD500s and generate overseas sales for its national aerospace sector.

Exact specifications are yet to emerge, but it is believed the nation wants an attack helicopter that can also carry 6-8 passengers, similar to the Mil Mi-35.

Offsets related to the AHX deal will likely be applicable to the indigenous KAH.

Boeing said it would be interested in offering its AH-6 light attack helicopter for the KAH offset.

While the AH-6 can only carry 2-3 passengers, in addition to a two-man flight crew, Boeing said the helicopter is optimised for operating in conjunction with the Apache.

The fuselage of the Apache is produced by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI).

The company also has experience working with Eurocopter, with which it developed the Korea utility helicopter, also known as the Surion.

KAI and Eurocopter have set up a joint venture to market the Surion overseas.