Declining defence budgets has forced some rethinking at Japan's Kawasaki

Paul Lewis/TOKYO

Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) boasts a long and distinguished aerospace lineage, dating back to 1918 and Japan's first home-grown biplane. After having produced some of the country's best fighter and bomber types of the Second World War, the company rebuilt its post-war capabilities around the manufacture of large fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

The company has led a fairly cossetted existence since 1945, sustained on a spoon-fed diet of defence contracts and supplemented by generous Government hand-outs for civil work. This seemingly Utopian state of affairs is set to change, as Japan's aerospace players begin to confront the harsh realities of military downsizing and cut-throat international competition.

Japan's unique industrial make-up has to a certain extent insulated and preserved its aerospace sector from the seemingly endless number of corporate consolidations which has befallen so many Western companies. KHI's aerospace group, like its two rival "heavies" Mitsubishi and Fuji, differs from many of its US or European counterparts in that it has the luxury of a diversified cash-rich conglomerate to fall back on.

Group sales in 1996 exceeded ´1.086 trillion ($10.2 billion), of which aerospace accounted for less than 21%. Of KHI's 16,500-strong workforce, only around 3,500 are employed at the company's main aerospace plant in Gifu and two smaller production sites in Nagoya.



For KHI to sustain itself as Japan's second-largest aerospace manufacturer, it faces challenges - not least that of a shrinking defence budget. The Japan Defence Agency (JDA) generates some 70% of KHI's aerospace turnover, but this is in decline. Company military sales in 1996 totalled less than ´100 billion, down by 37% on the previous year.

KHI has supplied about half of the 600 helicopters in service with the Japanese military, including 185 licence-built McDonnell Douglas (MDC) OH-6Ds and 60 Boeing CH-47J Chinooks. It is gearing up to begin production of Japan's first indigenously developed helicopter, the OH-1 scout. The last of four prototypes will be delivered to the JDA's Technical Research and Development Institute (TRDI) in August (Flight International, 4-10 June, P4).

The JDA already has approval to order the first three production OH-1s for delivery to the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force (JGSDF) in 1999 and is requesting funding in Ìscal year 1998 to purchase a further five of the tandem-seat machines. OH-1 production, in its present guise as an armed observation machine, is unlikely to match that of the 327 OH-6s built for the JDA, the last of which was delivered in March.

KHI is guarded in its comments about other possible variants, but many view an enhanced OH-1 as a possible candidate for the JGSDF's future AH-X attack helicopter requirement to replace the Fuji/Bell AH-1S. "From the viewpoint of growth potential, it has many possible applications. I say possible because we have no commitments now," cautions Ryozo Tsutsui, KHI executive vice-president and aerospace-group senior general manager.

The JDA appears to be reserving judgement until after the TRDI and JGSDF complete their own flight testing and evaluation of the OH-1 in 1999. "The flight envelope is limited under company testing and this will be expanded. We foresee a programme of about 1,000 flights," says Norio Yamashita, deputy director of the JDA's equipment bureau.

Notable OH-1 features include firsts for Japanese industry, such as the composite hingeless rotor-hub, ducted tail rotor with unevenly spaced blades and a Kawasaki-designed full-authority digital engine-control system. Other design aspects include an integrated avionics suite, laser sensors, and Toshiba Type 91 self-defence air-to-air missiles.



KHI is the JDA's traditional supplier of large fixed-wing aircraft, including Japan's indigenously developed C-1A transport and licence-produced Lockheed Martin P-3C anti- submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft. KHI is now anxiously looking for follow-on work, as P-3C production at Gifu begins to wind down.

Tsutsui explains: "Over the last 20 years, Kawasaki has been the only company in Japan capable of developing new aircraft. For the company to maintain a development capability, two things are needed - new production and engineering work."

KHI is keenly eyeing three new JDA requirements now under study. They consist of an in-flight-refuelling tanker and new transport for the Japan Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF) and a P-3 replacement for the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) (Flight International, 4-10 June, P16).

The tanker is the more immediate priority, which, after years of JDA hesitation, is expected to be included the FY1998 defence-budget request. Up to eight boom-equipped aircraft are needed to support the JASDF's Mitsubishi/ MDC F-15J/JAs and soon-to-be-delivered Boeing E-767 airborne-early-warning aircraft.

KHI has teamed with Boeing to offer the proposed multi-mission tanker/transport version of the 767-300. Local work content, however, is likely to be limited to airframe modification, equipment installation and in-service support. "It's small business compared to the other two possible programmes," concedes Tsutsui.

Decisions will also have to be taken soon on the proposed C-X transport and new maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), if either programme is to be included in the next, 2001-5, mid-term defence plan. Both programmes share a similar timetable, with basic design work due to start in FY2000 and the first aircraft entering service around 2008.

The JASDF's 30 C-1As have too limited a range and payload to be able effectively to support peacekeeping deployments outside Japan. It is ideally looking for a turbofan-powered aircraft, sized between the Lockheed Martin C-130 and MDC C-17. Preliminary requirements call for an airlifter, powered by four 89-147kN (20,000-33,000lb)-thrust class engines, capable of lifting a payload of up to 25,000kg over a range of 6,000km (3,240nm).

KHI is lobbying hard for an indigenous solution. "Finding something in between a C-130 and C-17 is very difficult, so it may be a good opportunity to build a new transport. The problem is, we don't see sufficient numbers to justify the investment," says Tsutsui.

International collaborative efforts have also been considered, such as the European Future Large Aircraft programme, but Japan's constitutional ban on the export of arms would make co-operation difficult. Other alternatives could include an interim off-the-shelf purchase of either the 767 freighter, C-130J or C-17.


In terms of aircraft numbers, the JMSDF's requirement for a new MPA appears to be a more viable programme for a national development. KHI is scheduled to deliver the last of 101 P-3Cs shortly and there is still no suitable replacement on the international market. The US Navy is in a similar position and recently agreed to an exchange of information with Japan (Flight International, 11-17 June).

Preliminary TRDI design studies have focused on 78,000kg maximum take-off weight-class aircraft, powered by four 58kN turbofan engines. The overall concept of a swept-wing jet-powered MPA has much in common with KHI's PX-L design from the 1970s. The JMSDF scrapped that project and opted instead to replace its KHI-built Lockheed P-2Js with the P-3C to ensure interoperabilty with the US Navy. Given that Japanese defence expenditure in the near-term is unlikely to grow beyond the $43 billion allocated in FY1997, many observers question whether the JDA will be able to bankroll two new big-ticket developments over the next ten years.

One innovative cost-cutting solution being studied is to combine elements of the C-X and MPA programmes .

"This is one idea," confirms Tsutsui, but cautions that "-from an engineering standpoint they are quite different, with the C-X being a tactical aircraft needing a high wing and high tail. Still, we're studying to what extent we can achieve commonality."

While the two aircraft would look quite different structurally, industry officials suggest that there is potential scope for commonality in areas such as cockpit avionics, fly-by-wire systems and other subsystems. Much, however, hinges on JASDF and JMSDF willingness to compromise to achieve a common approach.

KHI's Gifu plant, in the meantime, still has a limited amount of P-3 derivative work in hand. The company is due to deliver the fifth and final EP-3 electronic-intelligence (Elint)-gathering aircraft in mid-1998 and has a contract up to March 2000 to produce three UP-3D electronic-warfare (EW) training-support aircraft.


Modified Orion

The EP-3 is a modified Orion airframe, equipped with Melco high-frequency and NEC low-frequency Elint systems for intercepting communications and other electronic signals. The UP-3D will be fitted with Melco radar jammers, chaff dispensers and towed target to support JMSDF fleet EW training.

KHI will also convert five P-3C ASW aircraft to UP-3E image-data collection platforms. Planned modifications will include installing a side-looking radar, a long-range oblique camera pod and infra-red detection system for surface surveillance. The UP-3Es will also have a global-positioning system and satellite communications for relaying real-time images.

JDA belt-tightening has again served to warn Japan's large aerospace players that they can no longer continue to rely on an uninterrupted flow of lucrative defence contracts to sustain activity. "We must increase our commercial work," acknowledges Tsutsui.

Japan has been struggling to diversify its aerospace activities for some years, but with mixed results. While Japan has successfully secured itself a position as arguably Boeing's most important overseas supplier, repeated efforts to launch a locally led civil-aircraft programme have failed to get off the ground.

Long-running plans by the Japan Aircraft Development (JADC) consortium, of which KHI is a member, to produce the YS-X, a 100-seat jet-powered successor to the Nihon YS-11 turboprop, are no nearer to reaching fruition than two years ago. The programme has been undermined by a combination of high local costs and poor international sales prospects. "To speak frankly, at this stage we do not see any possibility of launching a new 100-seater-I don't see its future viability," says Tsutsui.

Traditional JADC cohesion seems to have fractured as a result, with Mitsubishi now pursuing its own independent 90- to 120-seat-aircraft feasibility study with Bombardier (Flight International, 11-17 June, P6). The Society of Japanese Aerospace Companies (SJAC), meanwhile, is promoting the concept of an Asia Community AirPlane (ACAP).

Tsutsui explains: "In the next century, Asia may need its own aircraft, designed particularly for small airports and low maintenance. There must be some areas where Asian countries can co-operate to develop a new aircraft. It's just one idea-but it is a beginning."

SJAC's 21-member ACAP committee, including representatives from KHI, recently presented its ideas for a new, low-cost, collaborative development to members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations in Jakarta. According to Tsutsui, they showed "some interest" in the idea.

For now, KHI's civil-aerospace output is heavily reliant on Boeing 767 and 777 sub-assembly work. The company is responsible for the 767's forward-fuselage section 43 and mid -section 45, including an additional 3.3m forward plug for the planned stretch -400. The company has delivered 677 767-200/300 shipsets since 1979 and is continuing to supply Boeing at a rate of four a month.

KHI's 777 work package consists of fuselage sections 43 and 44 and the aft pressure-dome, while it has subcontracted Nippi to produce the aircraft's keel beam, horizontal pressure deck and main wing ribs. Over 100 shipsets have been produced to date, including the Ìrst two plugged section 43s for the stretched -300.

In an effort to meet Boeing demands to cut production costs, the company has pioneered the introduction of new, leaner production methods. The so called Kawasaki Production System (KPS) combines the concept of "just-in-time" component supply, with improved automation and a new "hole-to-hole" method of assembly, dispensing with the need for floor-mounted assembly jigs.


Production methods

Skin panels, stringers and shear ties are instead pre-drilled, and assembled using temporary fasteners. Panels are then moved on rectangular frames, via an overhead monorail, to an automatic riveter. KPS has reduced factory floor space by more than 70% and cut production time by up to 30%, claims manufacturing senior manager Kazuhiro Kimura.

Road restrictions mean that 767 and 777 skin panels have to be transported from Gifu to KHI's two portside works in Nagoya for Ìnal splicing and frame fastening. Each KHI shipset, consisting of seven side, crown and keel panels, is then shipped to Seattle in containers.

KHI is unique among Japanese manufacturers in that it has a strong tradition of collaboration with Europe, and in particular with the UK. It is the only local manufacturer to be involved with Airbus Industrie, producing section 16A fuselage plugs for the A321 under contract to British Aerospace. The company has already delivered 55 shipsets and is set to raise production from three to four a month.

Despite this and suggestions that KHI might play a larger role in future Airbus programmes, it is clear the company's loyalty lies elsewhere. "Our main policy as regards commercial aircraft is to work with Boeing and we should refrain from supporting programmes that compete with Boeing," according to Tsutsui.

This, however, has not precluded Japanese collaboration with European helicopter manufacturers. Under an agreement KHI concluded in 1977 with MBB (now Eurocopter Deutscheland), the two jointly designed and developed the BK117 helicopter. Gifu has manufactured 112 machines in its own right, including four improved BK117C-1s, and supplied Germany with 282 main transmission, powerplant and fuselage shipsets.

Production peaked at 40 helicopters during the "bubble of 1990," recalls helicopter-project senior manager Masayoshi Onishi, but has since levelled off at a more sedate six to seven aircraft a year. KHI is now offering a series of locally developed enhancements to boost sales, including a recently certificated active vibration-reduction system and a global-positioning three-dimensional map display (Flight International, 4-10 June).

Japanese civil-helicopter sales in general have been picking up, topping 76 machines in 1996. Demand has been spurred by an increase in spending by the police and fire departments, maritime-safety agency and prefectural governments, in the wake of the January 1995 Kobe earthquake. KHI has delivered 19 BK117 disaster-relief helicopters, including two in March to the Ohita and Fukui prefectures.

This has also generated interest in larger, more capable, helicopters and, earlier this year, the Tokyo police department ordered Japan's fist EH Industries EH101 for delivery in November 1998. KHI has signed an agreement with Agusta to support the EH101 in Japan and may assemble the helicopter under licence if sufficient demand can be demonstrated.

The EH101 is being evaluated by the JMSDF as replacement for its Sikorsky S-61 Antarctic-support helicopters. The helicopter is also viewed as a possible successor to the 25 KHI-built Boeing KV107 search-and-rescue/ transport helicopters which are still in JGSDF and JASDF service.

"Wherever possible, KHI likes to collaborate with foreign manufacturers, such as EH Industries. I'm anticipating that, in the next century, more helicopters will be sold in Japan and this is an area where we must make ourselves stronger and more capable in terms of technology," concludes Tsutsui.

Source: Flight International