Brendan Sobie / Singapore

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) is beginning production of the new licence-built Sikorsky SH-60K helicopter, ending a one-year delay caused by flaws in the MHI-designed blade.

Japanese industry sources say subassembly of the first production SH-60K will begin at MHI's Nagoya plant by the end of this week. Major assembly will start next year and the first of an expected 100 aircraft will be delivered to the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) in August 2005.

The SH-60K is an upgraded version of the SH-60J developed for the JMSDF's anti-submarine warfare (ASW) requirement and features an upgraded engine, larger cabin, CRT-based cockpit and improved avionics as well as increased weapons capability.

MHI has developed and is producing a new blade for the SH-60K, which encountered problems during testing that led to a one-year delay in awarding the production contract. Sikorsky supplies the blade for the J model. MHI has not revealed the nature of the blade problem, but insists the flaws have been resolved, prompting the Japanese Defence Agency to award an initial production contract for seven SH-60Ks in March 2003.

The JMSDF is expected to gradually acquire 43 additional ship-based SH-60Ks and later 50 land-based SH-60Ks to replace its fleet of SH-60Js. MHI and partner Sikorsky believe the new K model could also be used as a baseline for about 65 search and rescue (SAR) helicopters to be procured by the JMSDF and Japan Air-Self Defence Forces.

Both agencies are expected to select replacements for their SAR UH-60Js within the next two years. But they are considering switching to a larger platform, in which case MHI and Sikorsky are prepared to offer licence-built S-92s. AgustaWestland and partner Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) plan to offer licence-built EH Industries EH101s. The EH101 has already been picked to replace 11 Sikorsky MH-53 mine countermeasures helicopters.

Japan began test flying the SH-60K in 2001 and continues to test two prototype aircraft. In April 2004, the new Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI) licence-built General Electric T700-401C2 engines will be installed on one of the prototypes.

IHI delivered the first T700-401C2 in March this year. The new engine is more powerful but will be operated derated to improve durability.

Source: Flight International