Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) is gearing up to increase the production rate of its KUH-1 Surion transport helicopter, with the type’s amphibious variant on the verge of attaining type certification.
The production increase to three aircraft monthly from one-a-month now is likely to take place in 2016, says Kim Hyong Jun, vice president & general manager of KAI’s Aircraft Marketing Division.
So far, the army has received 40 examples of the 8.7t type, he says. Overall, it will take over 200 examples. Kim adds that the type has already received its baptism of fire, having performed medevac missions in August after North Korean artillery shells struck South Korean territory near the de-militarised zone that divides the two countries.
In army service the Surion enjoys availability rates above 80%. Kim says there were some minor engineering issues in the first 10-15 aircraft, but the work required was minor and everything has since been fixed.
“Up to now there have been no major issues from a technical standpoint,” he says.
Meanwhile, KAI is confident that an amphibious version designed for the nation’s marines will receive type certification next month. A KAI-operated Surion was reconfigured to the amphibious standard and has successfully passed a number of tests, including operations to and from naval vessels. This work has included flight operations at sea in inclement weather conditions.
Kim adds that the variant’s rotor blades can be folded by hand for storage aboard ship. KAI is looking at options to automate this functionality. In addition to a four man crew (two pilots and two gunners) it can carry nine fully-armed marines. The type has emergency floats that can deploy with the press of a button. If required by the mission, crews can quickly add special internal long-range fuel tanks.
The first contract for the marine version is likely to call for 36 examples, says Kim, but this will likely grow to 40. A production contract is expected in 2016.
“We used just one helicopter for dedicated test flights for more than a year,” says Kim. “We've passed all development and operational tests with the navy.”
KAI also has plans to propose a naval variant of the Surion to the government, equipped with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles.
This variant would be aimed at Seoul’s Korea Multirole Operations Helicopter (KMOH) requirement. This is a 40-helicopter deal, and in 2016 Seoul is expected to make a decision to go with a naval version of the Surion or buy another aircraft.
Seoul has looked at the naval variant of the Surion previously, but decided instead to buy eight 6t AgustaWestland AW159 maritime helicopters, the first batch of which are due before the end of 2015. It is not clear if Seoul wants to operate two helicopter types from its surface fleet.
Kim also touched on plans to market the Surion internationally. He notes that in 2011 KAI and Surion development partner Airbus Helicopters signed a deal to jointly market the type, but that it was not yet ready for the international market.
He indicates that a big international marketing push for the type is likely in 2017 – although KAI has responded to several request for information in the past.
“We have been more focused on the domestic programme, and the development of the police, medevac, and marine version,” says Kim. “We are only now turning to the world market.”
Initial marketing efforts will focus on countries where KAI has already enjoyed success selling fixed wing aircraft such as its T-50 advanced jet trainer and KT-1 basic trainer.
Customers of T-50 variants include Indonesia, Iraq, Thailand, and the Philippines. The KT-1 is used in Indonesia, Peru, and Turkey.
“The focus is on countries who acquired T-50, because we've got more network and ties with these countries,” says Kim. “We are using these channels to introduce Surion...but we have many major competitors in this market. So, we're planning on gradual market penetration.”