Bell Helicopter is working with engineers from Fuji Heavy Industries on modification work prior to starting production of Tokyo’s 150 UH-X helicopters.

Bell Japan head Richard Thornley says one of the improvements is around improving transmission performance, but that Tokyo has kept tight wraps on other modifications it requires in the platform.

The Fuji engineers are working on the project at a Bell’s headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas.

The helicopters will be locally produced by Fuji, with the first example set to be delivered in 2022. Deliveries of the type, which is based on the Bell 412EPI, are contingent on the retirement schedule of UH-1J helicopters in service with the Japan Ground Self Defence Force.

To help the Fuji line attain scale, a civilian variant designated the Bell 412 EPI Advanced will be made available for local sales. Thornley estimates the line for the two helicopters is likely to run to two decades or longer.

In 2015, the UH-X beat a clean sheet design proposed by Airbus Helicopters.

Keith Flail, vice president for global military business development, adds that Bell is keeping a keen eye on Japan’s requirement for 60-70 attack helicopters under its AH-X programme.

“Our AH-1Z Viper is very compelling for their needs,” he says. “It’s a marinised helicopter, which makes it suitable for a country with such a large littoral environment.”

Bell has also held informal discussions with Japanese officials about its futuristic tilt-rotor proposals, the V-280 Valour and the recently unveiled unmanned system, the V-247.

Thornley notes that Japan is the first foreign customer for the V-22, with orders for 17 examples equip a new force modelled on the US Marine Corps.

“This country is very suitable for tiltrotor operations,” he says.