Korea Attack Helicopter (KAH)
The KAH program aimed to build about 270 attack helicopters with the help of foreign partners, following the ongoing Korea Utility Helicopter (KUH) program, led by KAI and Eurocopter, for developing and producing 245 troop-carrying helicopters.
In 2009 it seemed that South Korea was likely to scrap or delay the program to develop an indigenous attack helicopter following an assessment that it was nonviable economically and technically. Instead, the Lee Myung-bak administration wanted to speed up efforts to purchase foreign attack helicopters under the AH-X program to replace the Army's aging fleet. The Defense Ministry had shown strong skepticism about the Korea Attack Helicopter (KAH) program, initiated by former President Roh Moo-hyun who focused on building a "self-reliant" defense posture, particularly after witnessing the indigenous T-50 Golden Eagle trainer's defeat in a $1 billion acquisition deal offered by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in February 2009. President Lee Myung-bak put much emphasis on economic feasibility and practicality. He was negative about the KAH program in that context.
The government's Basic Plan for Development of the Aeronautics Industry finalized on January 21, 2010 includes search development of two projects [the KF-X fighter and the Korea Attack Helicopter (KAH)]. Under the plan, the system development of the two projects will be finally decided following the re-appraisal of the feasibility based on the two-year search development from 2011. The KAH Project is intended to develop a light attack helicopter to replace aging 500MDs and AH-1S Cobras, which form the main fleet of the ROK Army's attack helicopters. The KAH will be a 5 ton light attack helicopter with a seating capacity of six to eight crew members, the spokesman said. Exploratory development will start next year with an estimated budget of 23.2 billion won. Full-scale development will continue over the next six years with investment of 600 billion won. Either Korean Air or Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) will develop the KAH with technical assistance from a foreign helicopter maker.
By 2010 Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), South Korea's only aircraft maker, remained ambitious about building attack helicopters based on the technologies accrued from the three-year-long Surion KUH development. Of the accumulated skills, KAI says, 1,548, or 97.5 percent, could be directly applied to building a "KUH-based" attack helicopter in which the armament design for the T/A-50, the armed variant of the T-50 supersonic trainer jet, also could be used.
KAI envisioned four options regarding the development of the Korea Attack Helicopter (KAH) to replace the aging fleet of 500MD TOW and AH-1S attack helicopters flown by the South Korean Army.
- The first scheme was the development of an attack helicopter with a new body, including the cockpit, but otherwise retaining as much as possible from the KUH. The U.S. AH-1S Cobra, Italy's A-129 Mangusta and South Africa's Rooivalk are the exemplary models. KAI considers the option - which offers 63 percent commonality to the Surion spare parts including the rotor, engine and transmission - as the "best." It would take about six years to develop the attack version, which could be armed with 16 Hellfire-level anti-tank missiles, 76 rockets and the 20-millimeter turret.
- The second option was a derivative with a "tandem cockpit," a new stepped area grafted on to the Surion cabin, along with the wings and armament. KAI regarded it as "realistic." About five years would be necessary to develop the tandem cockpit variant.
- The third idea was transforming the Surion into a helicopter gunship simply by adding anti-tank missiles, rockets or guns. There are eight such models in the world, including the U.S. UH-60 DAP and UH-1Y, the Romanian IAR 30, and the Eurocopter EC725. The option has 87 percent of commonality with the Surion, and development of this model would take four years. KAI believed the fleet of armed Surions could successfully fill the gap resulted from aging attack helicopters for a certain period.
- The last scheme was the development of a light attack helicopter, about which the Army and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are in favor.
The KAH plan called for acquiring U.S. Apache-level advanced attack helicopters at a cheaper price. It will help minimize the burden for the integrated logistics support, while maximizing the operational rates of the helicopters as we could build and supply domestically built spare parts in a sustainable manner. The indigenous effort is expected to help boost the nation's economy by creating job opportunities for about 60,000 people and contributing to the development of the domestic spare parts and information-technology industries.
The government decided that the KAH should be a new aircraft, not a derivative of the Surion utility helicopter of Korea Aerospace Industries.
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