South Korea has approved a plan to replace the navy’s fleet of Leonardo Lynx 99/99A maritime helicopters, along with other helicopter acquisitions.

According to Seoul’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), the Maritime Helicopter II project will see the country acquire a helicopter overseas that can perform the anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare missions. It specifically lists the danger posed by North Korea’s submarine-launched ballistic missile programme.

Lynx Korea

Source: US Navy

US Navy sailors refuel a South Korean Lynx 99A aboard USS Lassen in 2013

This, and several other helicopter acquisition plans, were cleared at a meeting of the Defense Acquisition Program Promotion Committee on 29 December.

DAPA foresees Maritime Helicopter II deliveries running from 2025-2032 and has earmarked approximately W2.87 trillion ($2.2 billion) for the acquisition. Official news agency Yonhap quotes a defence official as saying that the NH Industries NH90 and Sikorsky MH-60R are candidates for the acquisition.

The acquisition follows the previous Maritime Operations Helicopter requirement that saw South Korea obtain 12 MH-60Rs through the US government’s Foreign Military Sales mechanism.

Cirium fleets data indicates that deliveries of the MH-60Rs have yet to commence. In the shipborne helicopter role South Korea’s navy has 11 Lynx 99s and 13 Lynx 99As with an average age of 28 years, as well as eight AW159 Lynx Wildcats with an average age of 7.3 years.

The committee also approved a W740 billion Command Helicopter II acquisition that will see VIP helicopters obtained. This acquisition will run from 2025 to 2030.

Another plan covers improvements for UH/HH-60 special operations helicopters used by the air force and army. In addition to improving the helicopters’ ability to perform infiltration operations, this programme will also support jobs in South Korea’s defence sector.

This project will run from 2024-2031 and will cost about W725 billion. Overall, South Korea’s armed forces are listed as operating 147 UH-60-family helicopters, of which 17 are tasked with the combat search and rescue (CSAR) mission. The average age of the CSAR assets is 31.1 years.

Finally, the committee cleared the mass production of an air-to-ground guided missile to be used by “small armed helicopters”. The missile news comes on the heels of a Korea Aerospace Industries announcement that it has secured a W1.4 trillion production contract for Light Armed Helicopters.

In December 2022, DAPA announced that had completed development of an indigenous ground attack missile for the LAH.

The missile acquisition will run from 2025-2035, with W725 billion earmarked.