Paul Lewis/TOKYO

FUJI HEAVY INDUSTRIES (FHI) of Japan is proposing a four-blade version of the Bell AH-1W SuperCobra as a more cost-effective alternative to licence- manufacturing the McDonnell Douglas AH-64 Apache.

The AH-IW proposal is in response to the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force's (JGSDF) requirement for a new AH-X attack helicopter to replace its fleet of Fuji-built Bell AH-IS Cobras.

The US Marine Corps and the British Army are also considering options for a four-bladed SuperCobra derivative.

An AH-X decision is expected to be taken in 1996 and incorporated into the next five-year defence plan covering 1996 to 2001. Japan Defence Agency (JDA) planning calls for a contract to be awarded in 1998 and the first helicopter delivered to the JGSDF in 2001.

The JGSDF is understood to favour the Apache, but the helicopter is considered too expensive to replace its entire fleet of 90 single-engine AH-1S machines.

FHI contends that it would be more economical to extend its existing AH-1 production line and build the twin-engined SuperCobra fitted with a four-bladed bearingless main rotor. The company is due to complete production of the AH-1S in 1996 with the delivery of the final two helicopters.

The AH-1W's General Electric T700-401 turboshaft engine is already being licence-produced in Japan by Ishikawajima Harima Heavy Industries. The engine powers the Mitsubishi-built Sikorsky SH-60J and UH-60J helicopters in service with the Japan Air and Maritime Self-Defence Forces.

In addition to the Apache, the AH-1W also faces possible future competition from the indigenously designed Kawasaki OH-X helicopter. The tandem-seat OH-X is due to have its first flight in 1996 and could enter service in 1999.

The JDA describes the OH-X as an observation and scout helicopter, which is separate from the AH-X. Defence sources, however, suggest that cuts in the JDA budget could result in its merger with the AH-X programme and the development of an OH-X attack version.

Fuji, in the meantime, is pushing the JGSDF to increase its planned purchase of UH-IJ utility helicopters to 100 machines. The JGSDG is already committed to 60 UH-IJs, including 13 to be funded in the next 1995-6 fiscal year.

The JGSDF is considering a low-high mix of UH-IJs and new UH-60JAs for its multi-purpose utility UH-X role. The UH-IJ is a military version of the Fuji Bell 205B, powered by an uprated 1,340kW (1,800shp) Kawasaki-built Textron Lycoming T53 turboshaft.

Source: Flight International