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KAI reveals options for army attack helicopter

Korea Aerospace Industries has unveiled two options for an indigenous AH-X programme that it hopes will meet the South Korean army's attack helicopter requirements.

The state-owned company displayed scale models of both variants and released some details at the Seoul air show. South Korea has a requirement for around 270 attack helicopters to replace its older Bell AH-1 and MD Helicopters MD-500 attack helicopters.

KAI is basing its proposals on the platform of the Korea Utility Helicopter, which it is developing together with Eurocopter. This option, says KAI, will save money and time at the development stage as it would share a platform with the utility helicopter.

"We are capable of developing and customising the KUH for the Korea Attack Helicopter requirement based on our existing ability and experience, as well as the domestic infrastructure. We can have a successful programme that can deliver the helicopter on time," says the company.

The first variant is similar in size to the KUH, with the cockpit slightly modified to incorporate the weapons system. KAI says that it would share more than 70% of the components with the KUH.

The forward engines are located beside each other with similar transmission, rotorshaft and blades to the KUH. The helicopter will have a length of 16.2m (53ft), width of 5.5m and height of 4.5m. It will have a total loaded weight of 7,500-7,950kg (16,500-17,500lb), a maximum speed of 138kt (255km/h), be able to hover at 6,500ft, and have cruise duration of 2.2h.

The slimmer second variant resembles other attack helicopters such as the AgustaWestland AW129 Mangusta or Eurocopter Tiger. This will entail the full development of an attack helicopter that will share only 60% of the KUH's components, says KAI.

KAI's proposals include a version resembling the Eurocopter Tiger

It will be 15.9m long, 5m wide and 4.7m high. Its loaded weight will be 7,270-7,720kg, have a maximum speed of over 140kt, be able to hover at 6,500ft and have a cruise duration of 2-3h.

The crucial difference will be the engines, with the second variant having one on each side inside a protective shell that increases the helicopter's survivability, says KAI. Both helicopters will have various weapons systems including 16 anti-tank missiles, 70mm rockets and 20-30mm turret guns.

A third option for KAI is to work on a brand-new platform with a foreign consultant. This could happen if the South Korean government decides to go for an off-the-shelf solution for its initial requirements while waiting for KAI to develop an attack helicopter. It could ask the foreign supplier to be involved in the domestic programme as part of the deal, say industry sources.

Eurocopter's close involvement with KAI could see it offer its Tiger for such a programme, while the Korean company's close relationship with Boeing extends to it manufacturing the fuselage for the US firm's AH-64D Apache Longbow. Seoul has also asked for information on the Mangusta, the Apache, Bell AH-1Z Cobra, Tiger and Kamov Ka-52 as part of its attack helicopter programme.

Others question the wisdom of developing an indigenous helicopter. "It would simply cost too much and take far too long to come up with an attack helicopter locally. It is also unlikely to have an export market, which means that the unit cost to the South Korean army is likely to be even higher," says a Seoul-based source.