Hasty copter project in doubt
A lawmaker said Wednesday that the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) will be awarded a chopper deal worth 6 trillion won ($5.292 billion), the country’s biggest arms deal ever for a local company, despite its failure to fully address safety concerns.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) plans to place the multibillion-dollar-order in December this year, according to Rep. Shin Hak-yong of the main opposition Democratic United Party.
“DAPA must not make a hasty decision. It should consider delaying the order until all necessary tests and evaluations are completed,” the three term lawmaker said.
He stressed that the incumbent administration is pushing to conclude more than $15 billion worth of arms purchase deals by the end of the year without proper assessment of the projects.
A parliamentary document exclusively obtained by The Korea Times also backs up the newspaper’s earlier claims that DAPA approved the mass production of the nation’s first locally developed rotary-wing aircraft on June 28 without undertaking some of the crucial tests.
It shows that KAI’s Surion fell short of meeting four of the military’s required vibration standards and needs further verification on the engine’s design as well as its bolts and casing.
DAPA insiders say that General Motors, the supplier of the Surion’s engine, will complete the review of technical problems by September and modify the design of the engine by March 2013.
DAPA awarded a $685.1 billion won low-rate initial production contract with KAI in December 2010 to procure about 24 Surions by the end of 2013.
The full-rate production, aimed at churning out some additional 220 helicopters, will take place between 2014 and 2016.
Noh Dae-lae, commissioner of DAPA, said that he gave the green light to the production of KAI’s Surion helicopters for military use in June as it may take several more years to fix all of its flaws.
“It may take years for the Surion to be qualified for an international airworthiness review certificate,” he said. “So I authorized the production of the Surion on the condition that the homegrown chopper is used with certain restrictions until further tests are completed.”
He acknowledged that DAPA will need to evaluate the effect of low temperature conditions on the locally developed helicopter through a flight test in Alaska scheduled to take place either in January 2013 or January 2014.
The parliamentary report also points out that DAPA has skipped the icing test of the Surion and plans to undertake it from November 2013 through March 2014, when the full-rate production gets into full swing.
A DAPA official said his agency has decided to delay the announcement for the approval of the Surion, which was scheduled to take place in July, for a few months to fix as many as problems possible before the scheduled launch of initial production in September.
“We want to make the announcement after the Surion passes its operational test for weapons loading,” he said.
However, Kim Hong-kyung, president and CEO of KAI, and other KAI officials downplayed the growing safety concerns, highlighting rosy prospects of its export potential.
“We are very optimistic about the prospect of the Surion project,” Kim said. “About three to four countries have already shown interest in importing the Korea-made chopper.”
An industry insider, however, refuted this, saying no official request has been made from a foreign country for the possible purchase of the helicopter, including India which KAI is reportedly in negotiations for possible sales.