South Korea has narrowed its choice of a new presidential/ VIP helicopter to the EH Industries (EHI) EH101 and Kazan Mi-17 in a competition which has strategic implications for Anglo-Italian company EHI as it tries to land a much larger deal to supply the South Korean navy.

EHI is fighting to fend off a Russian low-cost offer of Mi-17s to secure an order for three VIP-configured EH101s, with a probable option for three more. Kazan has teamed with Lucky Goldstar to push the helicopter, hoping to build on the 12 Kamov Ka-32 fire- fighting helicopters and a single Mi-17 used by police and supplied to South Korea in exchange for reducing Russia's debt.

A win for the EH101 would boost its chances ahead of the South Korean navy's planned purchase of helicopters for its KDX3 destroyers. The navy - which already operates 24 Westland Lynx naval helicopters - is looking to acquire three larger machines initially, and up to 12 in the longer term.

Seoul wants to take its first helicopter next year, which rules out the Sikorsky S-92. The Eurocopter AS332L Super Puma, already operated by the South Koreans, has also been ruled out.

The Mi-17 offer forms part of a larger package of Russian defence equipment being proposed by Seoul in return for further cuts in Moscow's debt (Flight International, 13-19 February).

Russia is also pushing the Mil Mi-28 and Kamov Ka-50 attack helicopters, among four types shortlisted by the South Korean army for its protracted AH-X programme as it presses ahead with a flight evaluation of competing US and Russian attack helicopters.

Source: Flight International