Formal selection of AgustaWestland EH101s has been delayed by powerplant contest

Japan is close to reaching a decision on its delayed MCH-X helicopter programme, with the procurement of the first of 14 AgustaWestland EH101s and a final engine selection now expected within the next few weeks.

AgustaWestland and local partner Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) won a Japan Defence Agency (JDA) competition last year to replace 11 Sikorsky MH-53Es and three Sikorsky S-61As.

Sikorsky, with local partner Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), initially was the only other bidder, but withdrew its S-92 proposal just before the scheduled selection decision last May.

Formal selection of the EH101 has since been repeatedly delayed while the JDA considers two alternative engines - the General Electric T700/T6A1, supported by Ishikawajima-harima Heavy Industries (IHI), and the Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322, backed by KHI.

The initial planned order for two machines has also been reduced, with the JDA only having enough funds in its fiscal 2003 budget - about ¥5 billion ($40 million) - to procure one EH101 with spares and training.

The JDA is reviewing KHI's pricing proposal for the first aircraft and must move forward with the purchase within the next few weeks to keep the programme on schedule. First delivery has slipped from 2006 to 2007 because the JDA did not select the aircraft and engine last year as originally scheduled.

KHI is eagerly awaiting the initial procurement so it can begin manufacturing the EH101 in Japan, which it hopes will give it an advantage in winning future JDA helicopter competitions. The powerplant selection is also significant as it could lead to the purchase of over 200 engines. The Tokyo police force operates a single EH101.

The MCH-X requirement is for an initial 14 aircraft and 42 engines over the next three to five years as the JDA replaces its MH-53 mine countermeasure and S-61 Antarctic support helicopters.

In the longer term there is an expected need to replace over 60 MHI-built Sikorsky H-60s operated by the navy and air force for search and rescue operations. Sikorsky still hopes to compete for this programme with either new H-60 derivatives or the H-92.


Source: Flight International