Winning bidder to supply avionics technology for indigenous KMH multipurpose helicopter in industrial offset deal

South Korea is likely to reactivate its shelved AH-X attack helicopter programme next year following conceptual studies into the country's proposed indigenous multipurpose helicopter (KMH).

The ministry of national defence (MND) says the AH-X remains officially frozen following the mothballing of the project in October due to budget constraints. South Korean industry sources say, however, there is a growing realisation among defence officials that the KMH will not offer sufficient performance for it to be used in the attack role, and that local industry will require overseas assistance to develop its on-board systems.

A strengthening South Korean won is, meanwhile, helping to ease budget pressures, say the sources, meaning Seoul could be in a position to go to contract on the AH-X by the end of 2004.

Before the AH-X was put on ice, South Korea was planning to acquire up to 36 attack helicopters to replace ageing Bell AH-1 Cobras. The winning bidder would then have supplied key technology required for the KMH as part of the industrial offset arrangements.

About 400 KMHs are required to replace MD Helicopter MD500s and Bell UH-1Hs in service with the South Korean armed forces. Seoul has repeatedly delayed a decision on whether KMH development will be led by Korea Aerospace Industries or state-controlled research agency ADD.

The helicopter will have a maximum take-off weight of 6,800kg (15,000lb) and be powered by two engines. It is due to go into full-scale production by 2008.

For the AH-X requirement, Bell offered the AH-1Z Cobra, Boeing the AH-64D Apache Longbow and Kamov the Ka-52K. Provisional contracts were agreed last year. The MND is not expected to respecify the aircraft if the AH-X is resurrected - but it will seek to renegotiate the sale prices.

Russian arms trade agency Rosoboronexport, which is leading the Ka-52K bid, sees South Korea's recent order for 23 Ilyushin Il-103 piston-engined trainers as a sign the South Korean air force is ready to accept Russian aircraft in service.

"The AH-X postponement did not result in the cancellation of Ka-52K systems development, as we use the core avionics being developed for the advanced versions of Mil helicopters," says Victor Niculin, general director of RET Kronshtadt, which is responsible for Ka-52 avionics integration.

Source: Flight International