The Japan Defence Agency (JDA) plans to begin production of the new Kawasaki OH-X scout helicopter in 1997, with an initial order for four machines.
Funding for the first four production aircraft will be included in the JDA's budget request for the fiscal year 1997. The recently approved five-year defence plan for 1996-2000 is understood to contain provision for a total of 15 OH-Xs.
The JDA's budget for 1997 will be submitted to the finance ministry in August. It will then be subject to cabinet and parliamentary final approval before the start of the new fiscal year in April 1997.
JDA planning calls for the first tandem-seat OH-X to enter service with the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force (JGSDF) in 2000. The OH-X flight-test programme is planned for completion by the end of FY1999.
According to industry officials, the first OH-X prototype is scheduled to have its maiden flight from Kawasaki's Gifu plant by August. It will be followed by a further three flight-test helicopters.
Kawasaki is due, to complete preliminary flight-testing and hand over all four prototypes to the JDA, by August 1997. The Agency's Technical Research and Development Institute (TRDI) and the JGSDF will then begin operational testing and evaluation.
The first two prototypes will be used for design and performance ratification and the final two machines will undergo system testing. The TRDI/JGSDF programme will total approximately 1,000h of flight-testing.
TRDI has already begun testing two static airframes. One is being used for load testing and the second for tie-down dynamic testing of the OH-X's rotor and the Mitsubishi TS1-10 turboshaft engine. Individual components are undergoing separate fatigue tests.
The 3.5t helicopter has been specifically designed to operate within Japan's confined mountainous environment, at a cost to date of '89 billion ($816 million). Design features include a hingeless rotor hub and ducted tail-rotor system for manoeuvrability and protection.
For its primary mission of battlefield reconnaissance, the helicopter will be fitted with a Fujitsu-designed forward-looking infra-red imager and NEC television and laser range-finder.
It will have neither, an anti-tank or a ground-attack capability, but will carry four Toshiba Type 91 air-to-air missiles for self-defence. The OH-X's four-hard-point stub wings are also plumbed to take two auxiliary fuel tanks. No official figure has been given for the total number of OH-Xs required.