Boeing and Sikorsky hopeful of getting back on shortlist if Seoul restructures indigenous development programme

South Korea's controversial indigenous multi-role helicopter programme faces further delays as a special task force is set up to probe the planned acquisition.

A foreign helicopter manufacturer was to be selected this month to help Korea Aerospace Industries develop a 6,800kg (15,000lb) helicopter with utility and attack variants. But after last month's decision by South Korea's president to conduct a broad review of the Korean Multi-role Helicopter (KMH) programme before proceeding, a delay of several months is expected.

Industry sources say the manufacturers shortlisted in July - AgustaWestland, Bell Helicopter and Eurocopter - should receive a letter this week or next explaining the delay. But because the government has not yet appointed the special task force that will be charged with reviewing the project, the length of the delay is unknown.

Sources say the review is likely to result in a major restructuring of the programme, which could force South Korea to reopen the competition and issue a new request for proposals. Boeing and Sikorsky both missed the shortlist and believe they may be able to offer solutions if the programme is restructured.

Boeing is in a position to sell AH-64D Apaches if Seoul decides to develop only a smaller, less-expensive utility helicopter and acquire new attack helicopters separately. If South Korea also opts to assemble utility helicopters locally, Sikorsky is prepared to offer a variant of the UH-60 Black Hawk. Bell is also prepared to offer its new utility UH-1Y and accompanying attack AH-1Z if indigenous production is dropped in favour of local assembly.

Downsizing the programme could be a blow to AgustaWestland and Eurocopter, which were seen as favourites under the original plan as they are more willing to invest in co-developing a new aircraft. But both companies, keen to expand their presence in the US-dominated Korean market, are prepared to revise their proposals to meet any changes in the requirement.

A review by the Board of Audit and Inspection, and many industry observers, have questioned the project's $13 billion cost estimate, the schedule for fielding helicopters from 2010, and the goal of exports beyond the domestic acquisition of almost 500 aircraft.


Source: Flight International