NHIndustries NH90 helicopter
By Jung Sung-ki
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) will open bidding for the procurement of new helicopters for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and naval operations in coming months, a military source said Tuesday.
The timeline for the project, which was originally scheduled to begin next year, has been advanced as part of efforts to bolster the country's coastal defenses against North Korean incursions, the source said on condition of anonymity.
The move apparently follows the sinking of a South Korean warship on March 26. Investigators confirmed last week that a North Korean submarine fired a homing torpedo that exploded under the frigate Cheonan, splitting it in two and killing 46 crewmembers.
The Navy temporarily suspended its fleet of anti-submarine Lynx helicopters last month after two of the aircraft crashed. The service had operated 25 Lynxes for anti-submarine and surface warfare.
"The Navy requested the Joint Chiefs of Staff last month to purchase new anti-submarine helicopters earlier than scheduled in an effort to beef up its maritime defense against the infiltration of North Korean submarines," the source told The Korea Times.
DAPA will release a request for proposal (RfP) for the purchase of anti-submarine helicopters to local and foreign manufacturers wishing to participate in the project, he said. The RfP would call for buying 20 ASW helicopters by 2014, he added.
In a related move, the Weapons Systems Concept Development and Application Research Center of Konkuk University, commissioned by DAPA to examine the feasibility of the program, suggested last month that buying a foreign ASW helicopter would be more effective than modifying the Surion utility helicopter developed by Korea Aerospace Industries, according to the source.
KAI, South Korea's only aircraft maker, rolled out the first prototype of the Surion in July last year. The 8.7 metric ton class aircraft was co-developed by Eurocopter.
The company argues Surion's modified variants could be able to meet the required operational capabilities for attack, landing/maritime operations, evacuation or firefighting.
But some critics say the Surion built for Army operations is inherently unstable to conduct maritime/anti-submarine operations. Surion's maritime version is expected to be operational by 2017, too late for the required timeline, they say.
In the feasibility report to DAPA, the center mentioned potential candidates. It referred to the European NH90 helicopter as an option. Other candidates include the U.S. Sikorsky's MH-60, a Surion naval variant and the Future Lynx developed by the U.K.-Italy helicopter maker, AgustaWestland. Sikorsky S-76 was also mentioned as a candidate.
The NH90 built by a consortium that includes three companies ― AgustaWestland, Eurocopter, Stork Fokker ― is a medium-sized, twin-engine helicopter whose maiden flight was made in 1995. It has been ordered by several nations including Germany, Spain, Italy and France.
The 16-meter-long helicopter can carry two pilots and has a seating capacity of 20 troops. It has a top speed of 300 km/h and a range of 800 kilometers. The helicopter is equipped with infrared and night vision systems and can therefore operate in darkness and adverse weather.
Its state-of-the-art sonar can detect submarines at great distances. It is armed with two torpedoes and a heavy 12.7 mm machine gun. The aircraft also features self-defense systems in the form of flares against missiles.
[단독] 대잠헬기 20대 추가 구매 계획
방사청이 대잠.해상작전 헬기 사업에 곧 착수할 것으로 알려졌다.
소식통에 따르면 대잠헬기 사업은 애초 내년 착수 예정이었으나 북한의 해상침투에 대비한 해군력 증강 계획에 따라 시기가 앞당겨졌다.
이는 지난 3월 침몰한 천안함이 북한의 반 잠수정의 어뢰 공격에 의한 것이라는 결론이 나온 가운데 이루어지는 조치이다.
소식통은 "해군이 지난달 합동참모본부에 대잠헬기에 대한 긴급소요를 제기했다"며 "북한 잠수함 전력 대비 해군의 해상 방어능력 강화의 일환이다"라고 밝혔다.
방사청은 6월과 8월 사이에 RFP를 낼 예정이다. 소식통은 RFP는 2014년까지 20여대의 대잠헬기를 구매하는 방안이 명시 될 것이라고 말했다.
이와 관련 건국대 무기체계연구소는 방사청의 의뢰를 받은 해상작전헬기 타당성 검토를 지난달 끝낸 것으로 확인됐다. 연구소는 보고서에서 한국항공우주산업 (KAI)이 개발한 '수리온'기동헬기를 해상작전용으로 개조하는 것보다 외국 기종을 직도입 하는 것이 더 효율적이다라는 결론을 냈다.
KAI는 지난해 7월 수리온의 시제기를 출고했다. 수리온은 유로콥터와 합작 개발한 기종이다.
KAI측은 수리온의 개량형들이 공격형, 해상작전용, 소개작전 혹은 소방작전용 헬기 작전성능을 만족시킬 것이라고 말하고 있지만 일부 비평가들은 애초 육군 작전용으로 설계된 수리온이 태생적으로 해상.대잠수함 작전 헬기로의 개조는 불안정한 면이 있다고 지적한다.
수리온의 해상헬기 버전이 2017년께나 되서야 완성된다는 점도 걸림돌이다.
건국대 연구소는 보고서에서 후보기종을 언급한 것으로 알려진다. 후보기종으로는 유로콥터의 NH-90, 시콜스키사의 MH-60, 수리온 개조형, 아구스타웨스트랜드사의 Future Lnyx헬기이다.