Left, MH-60S Knighthawk, built by U.S. helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky
Right, EH-101 manufactured by AgustaWestland, a British-Italy joint venture company
By Jung Sung-ki
The Navy plans to purchase at least eight mine sweeper helicopters from foreign nations in an effort to enhance maritime security against potential threats posed by North Korea's sea mines during wartime, a military source said Tuesday.
The Navy requested the Joint Chiefs of Staff last year review the acquisition of four multi-mission helicopters equipped with airborne mine countermeasures (AMCM) suite by 2012 in the first stage, the source said.
The program has been included in the Ministry of National Defense's mid-term arms procurement plan between 2009 and 2013, which is awaiting approval from Cheong Wa Dae, he said.
The Navy wants to deploy four more AMCM helicopters with its forces by 2015, said the source.
Viable candidates for the AMCM helicopter acquisition project are the MH-60S Knighthawk built by U.S. helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky and the EH-101 manufactured by AgustaWestland, a Britain-Italy joint venture company, the source said.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jung Ok-keun may review the two candidates during his possible visit to the United Kingdom next month, where the AMCM helicopters will be displayed during the Farnborough International Airshow July 14-20, another military source said.
A Navy official said, however, Jung's visit to the United Kingdom has not been fixed and would not be directly related to the AMCM program, though the Navy chief is considering visiting the European nation at the request of his British counterpart.
``AMCM helicopters are crucial in helping our ships maneuver in coastal areas as well as defending the sea lanes both during peacetime and wartime,'' the official said on condition of anonymity. ``In particular, the roles of the sea-mine sweeper helicopters will be more important in the event of war, given enemy's sea mines could cause significant operational delay by preventing our and allied forces, and their equipment from accessing shores.''
Compared to minesweeper ships, AMCM helicopters are more useful in defending larger areas in a shorter period of time and are also used in laying out sea mines in enemy's littoral areas to hamper enemy ships or lock them into a harbor, the official said. The South Korean Navy currently operates only minesweeper ships.
The AMCM helicopters will also used in infiltrating South Korean Navy's special forces units into enemy territory in case of an emergency, he noted, adding the aircraft will be operated for transport and search-and-rescue missions.
Mines, which are cheap to make and easy to deploy, are considered the most effective weapons available to a littoral adversary seeking to prevent enemy forces accessing shore line territories and projecting power ashore.
North Korea, which has more than 70 submarines, is expected to focus on mine warfare in case of war to deter reinforcements and overseas logistics support for South Korean forces from coming in, defense experts say.
MH-60S' organic airborne mine countermeasures systems include Raytheon's Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS), AN/AQS-20A underwater towed sonar with mine identification system, and Northrop Grumman's Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System (RAMICS), a none-towed mine neutralization system aimed at clearing near-surface and surface-moored mines using a laser target sensor and a 30mm mk44 gun.
The AMNS is an expendable, remotely operated mine destruction device that provides identification and neutralization of bottom and moored mines. Also included in the systems are Northrop Grumman's Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) and EDO Corporation's Organic Airborne and Surface Influence Sweep (OASIS).
The hovering helicopter deploys an expendable, self-propelled neutralizer steered to the suspected mine by the operator. Sonar and video displays on the airborne console help identify a potential mine threat. Confirmed mines are destroyed or detonated by high-velocity rounds with a reactive charge.
The EH101 is a utility medium-lift helicopter operational with the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom. Naval versions of the EH-101 can be armed with two anti-ship missiles, or up to four torpedoes and depth charges. It is equipped with infrared jammers, missile approach warning, chaff and flare dispensers, and laser detection and warning systems.
In September 2003, Japan ordered 14 EH-101s for AMCM missions and Antarctic survey transport with deliveries beginning in 2006.