Five manufacturers submitted proposals last week to help South Korea develop a new indigenous multi-role helicopter, kicking off an accelerated competition for a roughly $2 billion programme that many consider to be overly ambitious.

Seoul plans to downselect at the end of next month two or three of the competitors, which include AgustaWestland, Bell Helicopter, Boeing, Eurocopter and Sikorsky. A winner will be selected in September to partner Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) for a six-year development phase.

The companies vying to become prime integrator for the Korean Multi-role Helicopter (KMH) project are offering to export some of their latest technology and help build about 500 5,900-6,800kg (13,000-15,000lb) helicopters, with deliveries of a military utility variant beginning in 2010 and civilian and attack variants to follow. The KMHis intended to have well over 50% local content, but given the required time scale the manufacturers are all basically offering existing aircraft with modifications.

The AgustaWestland proposal is based on the AB139; Bell's proposal on the new UH-1Y and AH-1Z; Boeing's on the AH-64D Apache; Eurocopter's on the Tiger; and Sikorsky's on the UH-60 Black Hawk.

Most believe South Korea's $1.7 billion estimate for development is too low and it could be forced to downsize the project because of budget constraints and the ambitious schedule. But it is unlikely the programme will be killed entirely and instead only a utility variant may be developed to primarily replace 250 MD Helicopters MD 500s, and possibly 150 Bell UH-1s.

If KMH is downsized, South Korea's AH-X attack helicopter competition could be revived, with a separate Apache procurement the likely outcome. Boeing is basing its KMH proposal around the design, with major Apache components to be used for all variants.

Bell is suggesting an approach similar to its development of the AH-1Y utility and accompanying AH-1Z attack helicopter, but with some newer technology that was not available when AH-1Z work began in 2001. Sikorsky's proposal suggests using the utility, armed and civilian versions of the Black Hawk as a baseline from which it could create new models step by step.

AgustaWestland believes it can militarise the AB139 for KMH, while Eurocopter is confident it can help KAI build a new helicopter by exporting technology from the Tiger and other programmes such as the NH90.



Source: Flight International