Brendan Sobie / Busan

South Korea's government has ordered a re-evaluation of the Korean Multirole Helicopter (KMH) programme, which is likely to result in a massive downsizing of the recently launched $12 billion project.

Industry sources say budget constraints are forcing the new KMH programme office and Agency for Defence Development to tone down plans for developing an indigenous helicopter. Manufacturers believe South Korea will reduce the cost of the programme by either dropping the attack variant and instead only building a single utility variant, or by importing an airframe and only developing an indigenous mission system.

South Korea unveiled plans in September to move forward with the long-delayed project, setting an ambitious schedule for acquiring 500 indigenously built attack and utility helicopters (Flight International, 30 September-6 October). South Korea was planning to brief foreign manufacturers next month, issue a tender by year-end and select a Western partner in mid-2004. But the re-evaluation, ordered last week, could force a delay until the programme is sorted out.

Sources say the country's national assembly has tasked the Audit and Inspection Bureau to study the feasibility of the programme. Top South Korean government officials also are believed to be pressing for up to $5 billion to be knocked from the budget. South Korea's defence ministry had tentatively earmarked $1.7 billion for KMH development and $11 billion for acquisition. But Western manufacturers believe $1.7 billion will not be enough for South Korea's ambitious plans.

Source: Flight International