The Taiwanese Ministry of National Defence (MND) has slashed its utility helicopter procurement programme from 98 to 25 aircraft. Industry officials close to the programme say the reduction is due to budget concerns.

Taiwan requires a new utility helicopter fleet to replace locally built Bell UH-1Hs, about 100 of which are in army service. The programme will probably also yield offset work for Taiwanese industry, which wants to licence-produce the selected helicopters.

Bell Helicopter Textron has substituted the UH-1Y for the 412 offered previously. The UH-1Y is being developed for the US Marine Corps and has a four-blade, bearingless composite main rotor driven by a pair of 1,205kW (1,620shp) General Electric T700-GE-401 turboshafts. Other improvements include a glass cockpit and an advanced electronic warfare self protection suite. Bell is offering the UH-1Y as either new build helicopters or an airframe upgrade.

Other competitors include the Eurocopter Cougar and Sikorsky's S-70CBlack Hawk and S-92.

Bell says the MND planned to fund the procurement in its fiscal year 2003 budget, but this may again slip for financial reasons.

Sikorsky believes the Black Hawk has an edge as it is already in service with the Taiwanese armed forces. The Taiwanese air force operates S-70C-6 Super Blue Hawks in the search and rescue role, while the navy flies S-70C(M) Thunder Hawks in the maritime surveillance and transport roles.

Source: Flight International