Korea Aerospace Industries plans to roll out the first prototype from the indigenous Korea Helicopter Programme in July, with the company aiming to have the first flight for the type in the first half of 2010.

Ground tests are due to begin later this year and flight tests will be started by mid-2010. The initial production of an estimated 200 utility helicopters for the South Korean armed forces is due to begin in 2011, and the first aircraft delivered to the South Korean armed forces in 2013.

Seoul signed a $1.3 billion development contract with KAI in June 2006, but the programme is projected to cost up to $5.4 billion by 2011. Eurocopter is working with KAI on the helicopter, which will replace the country's ageing fleet of Bell UH-1Hs and McDonnell Douglas MD500s.

KAI says that the helicopter can be configured for air assault, search and rescue, medical evacuation, tactical transport, logistical transport and special operation missions. The 8t utility helicopter will have a maximum weight of 8,710kg (19,200lb) and service ceiling of 13,000ft (4,000m). It will give the service the option of carrying two pilots, two crew and nine troops, or two pilots and 16 troops.

The company, which is marketing the helicopter internationally together with Eurocopter, says that there is a market for more than 300 units globally over the next 15 years. It believes that it can sell 50-60 types in Europe and central Asia, 90-100 in Africa and the Middle East, and 80-90 in Latin America.

Earlier this year, Elbit Systems received a contract to supply advanced helmet-mounted display systems for the programme. While this is to initially cover the development aircraft that will be produced in 2009-10, it is likely to receive a follow-on order for the entire programme.

It is still not clear if KAI will develop an attack variant of the helicopter to replace the South Korean army's older Bell AH-1 and MD Helicopters MD-500 attack helicopters. The Defense Acquisition Program Administration, South Korea's arms procurement agency, has commissioned a study into the requirement and is considering both an indigenous AH-X programme and an off-the-shelf solution.

If the government issues an international request for information, it is likely to include the AgustaWestland AW-129 Mangusta, Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow, Bell AH-1Z Cobra, Eurocopter Tiger, and Kamov KA-52. The initial requirement is for around 36 helicopters that should be in service in 2012, but South Korea has an overall requirement for about 270 attack helicopters.

Source: Flight Daily News