Seoul has issued a second request for proposals (RFP) in its effort acquire 12 rotorcraft under its Maritime Operation Helicopters requirement, after the first RFP fell through owing to a lack of bidders.
FlightGlobal understands that the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) calls for bids to be submitted by mid-August, and that a decision could be made by year-end.
The two likely candidates for the deal, which calls for a helicopter capable of operating from warships, are the Leonardo AW159 and the Lockheed Martin MH-60R. The latter would be pitched under the US government's Foreign Military Sales mechanism.
When the deal was originally announced in 2017, DAPA said the 12 additional rotorcraft were required owing to the increased submarine threat from North Korea. At that time, it was considering three types: the AW159, MH-60R, and NH Industries NH-90.
Ultimately only the AgustaWestland team submitted a bid for the deal. South Korean media reports indicate that DAPA planned to go with the AW159 as a sole source supplier, but then Washington DC offered FMS pricing on the MH-60R.
"Lockheed Martin will support the US Navy’s efforts as they evaluate South Korea’s Maritime Operational Helicopter (MOH) Batch 2 Request for Proposal," says Lockheed in an email to FlightGlobal. "An FMS procurement of the MH-60R 'Romeo' would expeditiously provide the South Korean Navy with the world’s most advanced anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare rotary-winged aircraft in the world."
In addition to North Korea, Seoul is also cognizant of the increasing challenge presented by China’s submarine fleet.
In its recent report on Chinese military power, the US Defence Department said Beijing continues to place an emphasis on its underwater fleet, which includes four ballistic missile submarines, six nuclear powered attack submarines, and 50 conventionally powered attack submarines. This will grow to 65-70 submarines by 2020.
Cirium’s Fleets Analyzer shows that Seoul has 57 in-service assets in the anti-submarine warfare role, of which 40 are helicopters and 16 are fixed wing.
Rotorcraft include the eight AW159s, 11 AgustaWestland Lynx Mk. 99s, and 13 Lynx 99As. The navy also has eight Sikorsky UH-60Ps.
The navy’s fixed wing assets include 16 P-3 Orions. Eight of these are P-3C-III+ standard aircraft, while the other eight are of the P-3CK standard.
The P-3CKs were previously P-3Bs that the navy bought from the USA and upgraded with the help of Korean Aerospace Industries and L-3 Communications. The P-3CKs have surveillance equipment including multipurpose radar, high-definition electro-optical and infrared cameras and digital acoustic analysis equipment.