[Exclusive] S. Korea Plans to Develop Light Attack Helicopter


AW109 light utility helicopter
By Jung Sung-ki
Staff Reporter

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) is in favor of developing a homegrown light attack helicopter under the Korea Attack Helicopter (KAH) program, multiple military sources said Sunday.

At the same time, the agency plans to purchase foreign heavy attack helicopters under the AH-X initiative.

Under the direction of the Ministry of National Defense since May, the DAPA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) have been reviewing KAH's operational requirements, which had originally called for a medium-light attack helicopter.

Whether or not the KAH could replace the AH-X program was also a key topic. Proponents of the KAH have argued it is possible for the country to develop and produce heavy attack helicopters with technical assistance from a foreign manufacturer.

But others say introducing the high/low mix concept of operating both AH-X heavy attack helicopters and a KAH light attack fleet will help enhance operational effectiveness.

The National Assembly is reviewing a plan to invest about 3 billion won ($2.6 million) to start exploratory development of the KAH next year.

``Consensus has been built on the KAH requirements among the DAPA, the Army and the JCS that it will be more feasible to keep both AH-X and KAH programs,'' a military source told The Korea Times. ``The plan has already been reported to Defense Minister Kim Tae-young and presidential aides. It is awaiting approval from President Lee Myung-bak.''

Both the AH-X and KAH programs are aimed at replacing the Korean Army's aging 500MD TOWs and AH-1Ss. About half of the 500MD TOWs will reach their lifespan of 30 years by 2013, and AH-1S helicopters have also been in operation for more than 16 years.

The AH-X effort calls for buying 36 foreign heavy attack helicopters while the KAH program will build about 270 homegrown ones.

A possible candidate for the light KAH platform is the AW109 light utility helicopter built by AgustaWestland, the U.K.-Italy helicopter maker, according to sources.

DAPA asked AgustaWestland last year to provide them with information on the AW109, they said.

The AW109 is a light-weight, twin engine multipurpose helicopter. It has a maximum speed of 285 kilometers per hour and a ferry range of 964 kilometers. The aircraft has a service ceiling of 5,974 meters. It has a maximum takeoff weight of 6,283 lbs.

Eurocopter, which is co-developing the Korea Utility Helicopter with Korea Aerospace Industries, is entering the competition with the EC145 helicopter, the sources said.

For the AH-X, AgustaWestland is offering the T-129 attack helicopter, currently under development for the Turkish Army. The refurbished U.S. Apache Longbow helicopter is another candidate for the AH-X.

gallantjung@koreatimes.co.kr