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Bidders line up for Tokyo's AH-X contest

Airbus Helicopters and Bell have both expressed interest in bidding for Japan's emerging AH-X attack helicopter contest.

Tokyo in mid-May issued a request for information as it begins the process of replacing the fleet of Bell AH-1S Cobras operated by the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force.

These were licence-built in Japan by Fuji Heavy Industries, now rebranded as Subaru; Flight Fleets Analyzer lists 71 examples of the legacy type still in service.

Airbus Helicopters says it will offer "commercial-off-the-shelf solutions" using its HForce common weapons system for the requirement, rather than its dedicated attack helicopter, the Tiger.

"Building on 50 years of presence and co-operation in Japan, Airbus Helicopters is keen to actively contribute to this programme with its proven and wide range of products, supported by the multi-platform HForce modular weapon system," the manufacturer says.

Airbus Helicopters is integrating the HForce system onto its H125M, H145M and H225M rotorcraft, with the H160M likely to be included in the mid-2020s at the request of its French customer.

For its part, Bell will offer the AH-1Z Viper, the latest iteration of the attack helicopter and a direct descendant of Japan's current Cobras.

Boeing is also likely to participate in the RFI process with its AH-64E Apache.

Tokyo in 2015 selected a Bell-Subaru team for a 150-unit utility helicopter acquisition under the UH-X programme. The partners will build the 412EPI-based helicopters in-country, replacing the JGSDF's fleet of 130 UH-1Js.

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