Political wrangling and funding problems continue to hit South Korea's long-awaited Korean Multi-role Helicopter (KMH) programme, with another evaluation of the $12 billion project expected to result in a much smaller and less costly venture.
Manufacturers including AgustaWestland, Bell, Boeing, Eurocopter and Sikorsky all plan to bid to become the South Korean government's partner on a project which, if fully funded, would see 500 attack and utility helicopters built over the next 10 years.
Seoul kick-started the acquisition process in September and had planned to brief foreign manufacturers before year-end. Selection of its partner was due by the middle of next year.
But the new KMH programme office and the Agency for Defence Development are scrutinising costs very closely as part of a new study of how KMH should be structured.
The prospects remain unclear, with industry analysts believing that South Korea will choose one of two options to reduce costs: importing an airframe and developing only the mission system in-country; or dropping the attack variant altogether.
South Korea hopes to keep more than 70% of the programme indigenous, especially the development and manufacturing elements. Potential foreign partners will be asked to provide the technological lead and marketing expertise.
The picture is likely to become clearer if a merger between Korean Air Aerospace (KAL) and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) takes place as planned. The two companies each have helicopter experience. KAI builds Bell SB427s and produces Boeing AH-64 Apache fuselages and tail booms, while KAL has
licence-built Sikorsky UH-60P Black Hawks.
South Korea's ultimate goal is to use the KMH programme as a platform to establish itself as a major export nation, while at the same time meeting the mission requirements of the Korean army.
Seoul is also grappling with how to keep its utility fleet airborne until the first KMH deliveries, slated for 2010. It recently signed a seven-year contract for Huey parts. The issue is whether initial KMH deliveries slip beyond 2010, forcing South Korea to consider Huey upgrades or a separate Sikorsky Black Hawk purchase.
Source: Flight Daily News