Meanwhile, study will consider export possibilities for KMH

South Korean plans to develop an indigenous multipurpose helicopter (KMH) are approaching a critical point as the ministry of national defence (MND) attempts to refine its requirement and secure funding for the programme.

South Korea intends to acquire up to 400 KMHs to replace MD Helicopters MD500s and Bell UH-1Hs, and earlier this year selected the MND's Agency for Defence Development (ADD) to lead conceptual studies (Flight International, 13-19 August). KMH is envisaged as a twin-engined machine with a 6,800kg (15,000lb) maximum take-off weight.

The ADD is due to complete the studies in the first half of next year, and is expected shortly to recruit Korea Aerospace Industries to participate in airframe pre-development work, electronics specialist LG for the avionics and Samsung Techwin for the engines. Joint venture supplier Samsung Thales is also bidding for the avionics contract, but South Korean officials say LG has emerged as ADD's preferred choice.

Meanwhile, the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses has been asked to prepare by next May a report on the KMH's economic feasibility, including an evaluation of the potential export market, according to industry sources.

Funding remains a key uncertainty as South Korea is facing a defence budget squeeze, and the national assembly is debating how much money to allocate to the KMH in 2003. Sceptics argue it would be cheaper to purchase an existing type at a fraction of the cost of developing KMH. Further complicating the picture is the South Korean election in December.

Full-scale development is provisionally set to start in late 2003, when foreign partners will be sought for the Korean prime contractors. Potential airframers include AgustaWestland, Bell, Boeing, Eurocopter and Sikorsky, while BAE Systems is interested in partnering LG. Bell and Boeing hope South Korea will revive its AH-X attack helicopter programme enabling industrial offsets to be channelled into KMH. However, the MND is looking at the KMH as the potential basis for an attack helicopter.

The UK requires more than 100 utility helicopters, which could theoretically be met by the KMH, and talks on whether a joint programme could satisfy both countries' needs were held at a meeting in London on 21 October.

Source: Flight International