Paul Lewis/GIFU, JAPAN

Series production of the first batch of Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) OH-1 scout helicopters will begin in June, as flight testing of four prototypes by the Japan Defence Agency (JDA) approaches the halfway mark.

The JDA has concluded a production contract with KHI, clearing the way for manufacturing of the first three helicopters to begin at the company's plant at Gifu, north of Nagoya. The first production standard model is scheduled for delivery to the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force (JGSDF) in January 2000.

Funding for the initial batch of machines was included in the fiscal year 1997/8 defence budget. The JDA has since secured final clearance to order two OH-1s instead of the three originally requested, as part of this year's recently approved budget. It plans to request funds for another five helicopters in fiscal year 1999/00.

Meanwhile, the JDA's Technical Research and Development Institute has logged 400h of flight- time testing since the the first of four XOH-1 prototypes was delivered in June 1997. Around 500h of further flight validation and operational evaluation are planned at the JGSDF's Akeno airbase, running through to the end of 1999.

A third phase of testing is to start soon, focusing on mission equipment functionality. It will include testing of the OH-1's roof-mounted sight, consisting of a Fujitsu forward looking infrared imager and NEC television and laser range finder, as well as testing of Toshiba Type 91 infrared air to air missiles.

Japanese officials have privately confirmed that studies are under way for a possible future growth version of the twin engined OH-1, which would provide for a more powerful powerplants than the 660kW (885shp) Mitsubishi XTS1-10 turboshaft. Industry sources concede, however, that this will entail further design work on the gearbox.

Suggested powerplant candidates include the LHTEC T800 and Rolls-Royce/Turboméca/ MTU MTR390.

Source: Flight International