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MILITARY TECHNOLOGY (MILTECH) is the world's leading international tri-service defence monthly magazine in the English language. MILITARY TECHNOLOGY is "Required Reading for Defence Professionals". Follow us on Twitter: MILTECH1

21 October 2015

Seoul ADEX 2015: Airbus Helicopters Details Cooperation with KAI

Speaking to MT during Seoul ADEX 2015, Norbert Ducrot, senior vice-president North Asia of Airbus Helicopters, detailed the ongoing cooperation between his company and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) on Tuesday.

Airbus Helicopters will join with Korea Aerospace Industries in developing two 5-ton class rotorcraft that meet South Korea’s requirements for its next-generation Light Civil Helicopter (LCH) and Light Armed Helicopter (LAH).

Involved in the Korean Utility Helicopter (KUH) or SURION programme, Korea's first indigenous military helicopter, Airbus Helicopters was selected as a primary partner, with development having been launched in June 2006. Aimed at replacing the MD500 and UH-1H helicopters that are currently in service with the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army Aviation, the SURION first flew in March 2010 and entered service in May 2013 according to Ducrot after the first aircraft had been delivered five months prior to this. Deliveries will continue until 2040, it is planned with a total of 245 helicopters to be delivered to the Army.

Ducrot described the KUH programme as very succesful with it being, "on schedule, on cost and on specs." Other versions of the KUH-1 SURION are currently under development and include a marine utility helicopter for amphibious operations and a medevac helicopter together with versions optimised for SAR and for coast guard duties. Korea's national police agency will get the KUH-1P variant. Ducrot expects a decision in the middle of next year regarding Korea's requirement for a new maritime operations helicopter, the KMOH, with either an off the shelf or a new design to be selected. KAI together with Airbus Helicopters is proposing a version of the SURION with folding main rotor blades and a folding tailboom. Ducrot explained: "We are pushing for a naval version of the KUH with ASW, ASuW capability." Around 40 aircraft are needed according to Ducrot who is bullish about the export potential of the military SURION, indicating that he expects, "a minimum of 300 helicopters for the export market."

Calling it a, "win win cooperation," Ducrot praised KAI during the round table meeting saying the company is, "a reliable partner," due to its, "level of technology and level of quality." He also said that Airbus Helicopters had been given, "real access to the defence market in Korea," despite the country traditionally having a strong US presence.

In line with this, Ducrot revealed that in 2020 his company will close down the H155 assembly line in Marignane, France with production to be transferred to Korea. With Airbus Helicopters and KAI having been selected for partnership development in March of this year, the H155 now forms the basis of Korea's Light Attack Helicopter (LAH) and Light Civil Helicopter (LCH) programme. The ROK Army has a requirement for 214 LAHs while it is expected that around 100 LCHs will be needed domestically despite Airbus Helicopters' findings that Korea's civilian helicopter market is rather limited.

Ducrot sees an export potential for, "600 helicopters over the next 20 years," including 300 to 400 of the attack helicopter version. Ducrot detailed that Airbus Helicopter is, "quite optimistic about the attack version, it will be the only midsized helicopter in its segment and very competitive. Many countries in the Middle East and Asia will be interested." He also said: "We do not have a small medium sized attack helicopter in our portfolio nor a small medium sized naval helicopter," the latter a reference to the KMOH programme, "this gives us access to other external markets."

Aimed to be more affordable than the AH-64 APACHE or Airbus Helicopters' own TIGER, the LAH will be lighter with Ducrot mentioning a weight of, "around 5 tons." Airbus Helicopters' significant experience in weapons integration gained due to its TIGER and PANTHER programmes will now be put to good use in the LAH programme. While being capable of carrying some three to six personnel in its cabin depending on the equipment being carried, the helicopter will get a new canopy and be armed with a turreted 20mm gun under its nose. Ducrot made clear that the, "aircraft's preliminary design has been finalised," with there being no need for structural reinforcements because of the gun.

Certication of the LCH is planned for 2019 with the aircraft to enter service the next year. The LAH meanwhile is planned for qualification in 2022 with production of both variants to span from 2020 until 2050.
Pieter Bastiaans