The Japan Defence Agency (JDA) is expected to begin flight evaluations in early 1999 of competing European and US attack helicopters, as it once again faces conflicting pressure to purchase either a foreign design or support the indigenous development of an enhanced version of the Kawasaki Heavy Industry (KHI) OH-1 scout machine.

KHI, along with the JDA's Technical Research and Development Institute, is quietly championing development of a local attack helicopter, tentatively designated AH-2. The machine is a re-engined and substantially strengthened variant of the OH-1 armed reconnaissance helicopter now in flight test and due to enter the Japan Ground Self-Defence Service (JGSDF) in early 2000.

Japan has sought pricing and technical information on the LHTEC T800 and MTU/Turboméca/Rolls-Royce MTR390 turboshafts, which are viewed as potential powerplants for the AH-2. The OH-1 is now powered by a locally developed 660kW (885shp) Mitsubishi XTS1-10, but the JGSDF is not interested in a simple OH-1 update and considers it underpowered for its future AH-X requirement.

In addition to new twin turboshafts, the AH-2 would require a new gearbox and rotor system. In place of the OH-1's relatively simple observation and avionics suite, the new variant would need to be equipped with a new integrated sensor, targeting and weapon system for use on a digital battlefield. The OH-1's existing armament is confined to four Toshiba Type 91air-to-air missiles mounted on two stub wings for self-defence.

Overseas AH-X contenders include the improved four-bladed Bell AH-1Z and Boeing AH-64D Longbow Apache, both of which Fuji Heavy Industries is expected to offer, and the Eurocopter Tiger supported by Marubeni. Flight evaluations are expected to begin with the Tiger at Marignane in France early in 1999.

The JGSDF requires around 100 AH-Xs to replace its Fuji-built Bell AH-1F Cobras.

Source: Flight International