Andrew Doyle/SINGAPORE

Singapore, kicking off its search for a maritime helicopter to equip six French-built warships, has released a request for information (RFI) to prospective bidders.

The document indicates that Singapore is also widening its basic requirement for six to eight multirole naval helicopters to include an extra 12-14 machines to replace the army-support Eurocopter AS332 Super Pumas deployed on four landing ship support vessels, industry sources say.

Sources believe Singapore could acquire more than 40 helicopters of a common type if it also decides to buy new medium troop transports to replace ageing Bell UH-1Hs.

The RFI is expected to draw responses within the next couple of months from Eurocopter offering the AS532SC Cougar, Kaman the SH-2G Super Seasprite, NH Industries the NH90, Sikorsky the SH-60 Seahawk (and possibly the S-92), and AgustaWestland the Super Lynx 300 as well as the EH Industries EH101.

A question mark remains over whether any single type can meet all of the RFI requirements, the sources say.

Singapore has not specified a target selection date, but a decision during the first half of 2002 would enable helicopter deliveries to start when the first of the La Fayette-class frigates is handed over in mid-decade. The timetable may mean that NH Industries must negotiate with France and Germany to secure some of their early delivery slots for the naval NH90, if it is selected by Singapore.

Crew training is expected to form a key element of the selection process. The Singapore navy has not previously operated shipborne helicopters.

The first of the ships will be built in France, while the rest will be assembled and customised locally by Singapore Technologies Marine.

Meanwhile, Singapore is believed to have selected MBDA's Aster surface-to-air missile system for the frigates after evaluating the rival Raytheon SM-2, although the European missile house declines to comment.

Source: Flight International