Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) is close to finalising an upgrade plan for its OH-1 scout, which the company plans to offer to meet a Japanese army requirement for 120 new utility helicopters. Western manufacturers have been urging Japan to consider the local production of the AgustaWestland AW139 or Bell 412, but industry sources say it appears to be leaning towards an indigenous solution, writes Siva Govindasamy.

"Given that the Japanese army already uses the OH-1, the utility helicopter requirement could also be based on that," says one source. "The thinking is that it is better not to start from scratch, but to use a good and known base." A utility variant of the current aircraft would also offer commonality in systems and spare parts and deliver cost savings, the source adds.

KHI confirms it is "continuing to study expanding the OH-1's capability to high adaptability, manoeuvrability and stability to meet the increasing requirements", but has not elaborated on which upgrades are being considered.

However, an industry source says the company is looking to increase the OH-1's range, and also hopes to boost the Mitsubishi TS1-10 turboshaft engine's power output from 885shp (660kW) to 1,300shp. Other enhancements could include a new control system capable of gust alleviation, a new rotor hub, torque split transmission and an enhanced rotor blade erosion protection system.

A decision on the utility programme is expected from the end of this month, when the budget available for the development work will become clearer. Should the defence ministry decide against an indigenous solution, KHI could team with AgustaWestland to offer the AW139, and Fuji Heavy Industries with Bell on the 412.

Source: Flight International