AH-X attack helicopter
About half of the Army's 500MD TOWs will reach their life span of 30 years by 2013, while AH-1Ss have also been in operation for more than 16 years. The AH-X attack helicopter project calls for the purchase of 36-40 attack helicopters (two squadrons) after 2004 at a cost of 2 trillion won ($1.6 billion). It is intended to counter threats by North Korea's tank and armored personnel carriers, and to replace 60 Bell AH-1S. The minimum operation requirements call for twin-engine helicopters capable of flying at speeds of over 240 kilometers per hour.
On 17 April 2013, the Republic of Korea's Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced it would purchase 36 AH-64E Apache Guardian helicopters through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. The value of the FMS sale was estimated at $1.6 billion. For the US Army, this purchase by South Korea was expected to account for almost one-tenth of Army FMS for the fiscal year.
"We are very proud our Korean partners selected a U.S. aircraft," U.S. Army Security Assistance Command's (USASAC's) PACOM Regional Director Col. Stephen Smith said. "We received an LOR (Letter of Request) to submit a proposal last year, and DAPA competed these proposals through a very rigorous process. We were not only competing against other nations, but also private industry from other nations," Smith explained.
The AH-64E Guardian is the most recent "platform" of the Army's Apache attack helicopter, which means its systems are the most technically-advanced version available to the U.S. Army. "This purchase by the Koreans means continued interoperability at the highest level, and it may also have an 'economies of scale' benefit for the U.S. Army if we are also purchasing this model," Smith stated. While USASAC oversees security assistance and the FMS process for the Army, numerous other organizations that support the Army Security Assistance Enterprise also support this case.
"AMCOM (Aviation and Missile Command) Security Assistance Management Directorate, PEO Aviation (Program Executive Office Aviation) AAHPO (Apache Attack Helicopter Project Office), ACC (Army Contracting Command), CECOM (Communications-Electronics Command), JMC (Joint Munitions Command) and our industry partners are supporting this acquisition in the same way we support our Army's acquisitions," Smith noted.
For the Army, this purchase by South Korea is expected to account for almost one-tenth of Army FMS for this fiscal year. "The purchase of a U.S. product through Foreign Military Sales is always a credit to the quality and professionalism of our Army's equipment and personnel. But this also speaks to the long-standing relationship we have with Korea and supports PACOM (U.S. Pacific Command) priorities and the DoD's (Department of Defense's) rebalance toward the Pacific," Smith said.
The project narrowed down to a showdown between American and Russian defense contractors. European and South African firms expressed intentions not to compete for the project. Boeing, Sikorsky and Bell of the U.S. and Kamov and Mil Moscow of Russia submitted their proposals for the project, but Eurocopter, a Franco-German consortium, and South Africa's Denel said they would not tender bids for the AH-X project. The helicopters expected to be offered by the U.S. and Russian contractors include Boeing's AH-64D Apache Longbow, Sikorsky's AUH-60, Bell's AH-1Z, Kamov's KA-50 and Mil Moscow's MI-28.
In 2001 South Korea dropped the AH-X plan, and decided to develop and produce [with foreign partners] the KMH Korean Multi-Purpose Helicopter. The KMH would provide more work for Korea Aerospace Industries. The new project aims at producing about 500 KMHs, which will provide more work than the 36 AH-Xs initially planned. The KHM program was to produce multi-purpose helicopters, including the attack function, for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. By early 2005 the former Korean Multi-Role Helicopter (KMH) project, entailing the development of some 500 military aircraft including 200 attack helicopters by 2012, had been downscaled, and economic feasibility of the project was to be re-examined.
As of 2010 DAPA planned to purchase foreign heavy attack helicopter under the AH-X program separate from the KAH. The AH-X effort called for buying 36 foreign heavy attack helicopters while the KAH program will build about 270 homegrown aircraft. Both the AH-X and KAH programs are aimed at replacing the Korean Army's aging 500MD TOWs and AH-1Ss. About half of the 500MD TOWs will reach their lifespan of 30 years by 2013, while the AH-1S helicopters have been in operation for more than 16 years.
Candidates include Boeing's AH-64, Sikorsky's AH-60 and Bell's AH-1Z from the U.S.; the KA-52 from the Arseniev Russian Progress company; Italy's Agusta T/A-129; and Eurocopter's EC-665. DAPA is very interested in buying 36 refurbished AH-64 Apache helicopters. It wants to receive the first batch of 18 Block II Apache Longbow models modified from the Block I standard by 2012, and the second batch of older units, dubbed MIMEX, by 2014.