The government hopes this will boost local plans to develop the helicopter indigenously

The South Korean Government is poised to demand industrial offsets amounting to 50% of contract value against its planned purchase of 36 attack helicopters in an effort to boost plans by local industry to develop an indigenous multi-purpose helicopter (KMH).

The AH-X tender originally specified offsets worth 30%, but industry sources say Seoul has informally told bidders to expect this to be increased to 50%.

The contenders are Boeing, offering the AH-64D Apache Longbow, Bell with the AH-1Z Cobra, and Rosoboronexport/Kamov bidding the Ka-52K. The winner is due to be selected by the end of this year though a further delay is possible due to budgetary constraints caused by the sharp fall in the value of the won.

A key offset requirement is the transfer of technology required for South Korea to develop a replacement for the army's MD Helicopters MD500s, which are used for training, observation and command and control missions, and Bell UH-1 utility helicopters. Up to 450 aircraft could be required.

Though a formal KMH requirement is still being formulated, the army is believed to be targeting a twin-engined machine with a 6,800kg (15,000lb) maximum take-off weight. A request for proposals could be launched next year to achieve an in-service date at the end of the decade.

Bell is studying a tilt-rotor KMH proposal, and the US manufacturer briefed South Korean defence and government officials on the concept during the Seoul air show which took place between 15 and 21 October. Bell produces the V-22 Osprey in partnership with Boeing and the smaller, civil BA609 together with AgustaWestland.

Bell is evaluating whether the KMH programme is large enough to warrant discussions with the army over the possible development of an all-new tiltrotor, probably slightly smaller than the BA609.

The company is also studying a militarised version of its 427 civil helicopter. Dubbed the Bell 428, the Korea Aerospace Industries-built fuselage would be stretched 250mm (10in) and equipped with an Elbit avionics suite and weapon system. Also under study is the all-new "Phoenix" utility helicopter which could be developed as aUH-1 replacement and also serve as a light attack/scout machine.

Eurocopter believes the defence ministry will likely opt for a derivative of an existing helicopter - developed with South Korean industry participation - to reduce costs and bring forward the in-service date.

Eurocopter vice president sales and marketing Olivier Lambert says the manufacturer envisages basing its offer on the EC155.

"Starting from this platform we could adapt to meet the requirements of the Korean army," he says. "It could be a significant development of the platform and systems, but the question is how much time and money they want to spend."

Sikorsky has signed a memorandum of understanding with Korean Air Lines (KAL)to jointly propose a KMH solution which the pair says could enter full-scale production by 2008. KAL has produced 100 Sikorsky UH-60P Black Hawkhelicopters under licence.

Rosoboronexport's Ka-52K offer is boosted by the large outstanding debt Russia needs to settle with South Korea, but the Apache is widely considered to be the AH-X front-runner.

Source: Flight International