Manufacturer aims to dislodge EH101, but defence cuts could hit helicopter programmes

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) is preparing to offer a variant of Sikorsky's H-60 Seahawk to meet an anticipated Japan Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF) requirement for search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopters.

The air force and the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) plan to begin separate UH-60J replacement contests within the next two years. MHI believes the proposed H-60+ variant would be an economical solution for both requirements. The company is discussing H-60+ specifications with Sikorsky, and says the design will be based on Japan's UH-60J, but feature improvements in areas such as avionics. Some upgraded components could be drawn from MHI's new SH-60K anti-submarine warfare helicopter, deliveries of which will start to the JMSDF from next year.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries has partnered Europe's AgustaWestland to promote the EH101 for the JMSDF's SAR requirement, with the type considered an early favourite given its selection to meet the service's mine countermeasures and Antarctic support missions. The navy's first EH101 is in assembly at AgustaWestland's UK site in Yeovil.

However, industry sources fear that the UH-60Jreplacement effort could be delayed by several years when the Japanese Defence Agency's (JDA) next five-year defence spending plan is unveiled late this year. The new plan is expected to reduce, or even eliminate, several helicopter programmes to make room for a new ballistic missile defence (BMD) requirement, and to reduce the number of aircraft types manufactured. MHI has already rejected licence-manufacture of Sikorsky's S-92, as this would require establishing another helicopter assembly line.

Japan's purchase of Fuji-built Boeing AH-64D Apache attack helicopters could be scrapped, industry sources suggest, while the UH-60J replacement programme could be delayed until the next defence plan concludes in 2010.

Fighter production, historically Japan's highest priority, will also be affected, possibly through an early end to Mitsubishi F-2 production and a delay to an expected review of F-4 replacements. "With the addition of BMD to the Japanese budget we are concerned the F-2 and F-15J modernisation programme could be reduced or cut due to budget constraints," says MHI. "We will co-ordinate with JDA so they can procure more F-2s and more F-15Js in the mid-term defence plan, but it's a very severe situation."



Source: Flight International