BEIJING — Korea Aerospace Industries will move ahead with preliminary development of South Korea’s proposed light attack helicopter, following the Defense Ministry’s decision to contract with the company for concept definition.
The work, estimated at 19.2 billion won ($18.2 million), reinforces Korea Aerospace’s position as the national rotary-wing specialist. The ministry rejected a competing bid from Korean Air Aerospace, the manufacturing division of the country’s largest airline. The move also increases the likelihood that South Korea will finally put the Korean Attack Helicopter (KAH) into production, with more than 200 units required.
Along the way, the program could create an important new civilian helicopter. With an eye on civil sales, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy has insisted that the aircraft have a cabin with six-eight seats, instead of the traditional skinny two-seat body that minimizes the weight and drag of an attack helicopter and maximizes its agility. The ministry is the government’s main economic coordinating agency, running an industry policy based on the Asian tradition of trying to pick winning projects.
One picture of a Korea Aerospace design study shows the KAH with a sensor turret and four missiles that look like Hellfires, two under each stub wing. The mission is close support.
Eurocopter, Korea Aerospace’s partner in developing the larger Surion utility helicopter, appears to be well-placed to take part in the KAH, too, especially if it thinks the 40-year-old Dauphin series should be replaced. With a gross weight of about 4.5 tons, the KAH would be comparable to the Dauphin, AgustaWestland Super Lynx and Bell AH-1 Cobra, but without the latter’s specialized attack configuration.
Concept definition of the KAH is planned to run until the end of 2012, at which time the government should decide whether to undertake full-scale development from 2013-18 at a cost estimated at 570.8 billion won. The cost of development, apparently including concept definition, was previously quoted at 700 billion won; it is unclear why the estimate has fallen, contrary to the usual trend in aerospace programs.
According to earlier estimates based on building 260 KAHs, production would cost 3 trillion won, which at current exchange rates works out to about $11 million per helicopter. The total program value is now forecast at about 12 trillion won, including running costs. The army’s official newspaper now states the required number as more than 200. It was once as high as 274.
Two years ago the concept-definition phase was supposed to begin in 2010 to support the Defense Ministry’s demand for the KAH to enter service in 2018 and begin to replace about 70 Cobras and 270 Hughes 500s. Since the ministry is still aiming to complete development in 2018, the schedule appears to have been compressed.
The current KAH has emerged from twice splitting what was originally a single huge helicopter development effort. At one point the aircraft was to be part of the Korean Multipurpose Helicopter program, with 477 units proposed. In 2005 that effort was reduced to focus on the Korean Utility Helicopter, now Surion, with the attack helicopter, expected to be a variant, left for later. In 2008 the attack requirement was itself split between heavy helicopters – almost certainly Boeing AH-64 Apaches that the army has wanted since the 1990s – and smaller rotorcraft that could be developed domestically under the KAH program. The KAH might still have been a fairly large aircraft had the ministry accepted proposals to adapt the Surion. The current proposal calls for a much smaller helicopter.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration said in April that it planned to order heavy attack helicopters by October 2012. The long-standing requirement is for 36 units.
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