Bidders want Japan to move forward with replacement of its Sea Stallion minesweepers

The Japan Defence Agency (JDA) is being urged by potential bidders to move forward with plans to select a new minesweeping/transport helicopter to replace Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) Sikorsky MH-53JSea Stallions.

Industry sources say the JDA is considering issuing a request for proposals (RFP) as early as this year with a view to acquiring 14-15helicopters of a common type to replace 11 MH-53Js, and three Antarctic support Sikorsky S-61As.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has launched an unsolicited marketing campaign to promote Sikorsky's S-92, according to the sources. The Japanese manufacturer has a 7.5% risk-sharing stake in the S-92 and is responsible for the centre fuselage. An RFP would also attract the attention of EH Industries, offering the EH101, while another candidate could be the Mitsubishi-built Sikorsky SH-60J Seahawk.

The JDA has set aside funding for an additional 39 Seahawks to be built over the next five years for anti-submarine warfare duties. The JMSDF plans a fleet of 60 of the shipboard type.

Replacing the MH-53 with a smaller type is expected to reduce operating costs, but the S-92 and EH101 are not large enough to carry the MH-53's minesweeping equipment, say the sources. However, more compact minesweeping gear is in development for the US Navy's SH-60Rs.

Separately, MHI says the first upgraded SH-60J Kai is due to fly for the first time in mid-July and will undergo "almost one year" of testing. The Kai version is equipped with an active sonar and tactical information processing, composite main rotor hub and blades, and a redesigned cabin to provide more usable internal space, among other improvements.

Meanwhile, informal talks are taking place on the possibility of the Japanese forces eventually acquiring the Bell/Boeing V-22 Osprey for shipborne tactical support missions and potentially as a maritime patrol aircraft.

"We have a low-level informational campaign underway," says Boeing Japan president Rick Martin. "It's going to have to gain more operational acceptance in the USA before its going to be a higher priority in Japan," he says, adding that Japan is nevertheless showing "strong curiosity" towards the V-22.

MHI is developing a radar upgrade for Japan Air Self Defence Force F-15Js following a funding allocation of ´30 billion ($250 million). The longer-range radar will require the installation of a more powerful electrical generator in the aircraft. Six aircraft are to be modified in 2004 and a similar number the year after, MHI says.

Source: Flight International