Light Armed Helicopter (LAH)
In July 2014, KAI was designated the lead developer for Light Civil Helicopter (LCH) and Light Armed Helicopter (LAH), and discussions are underway to select foreign partners for development. The company plans to develop an LCH platform by 2020 and an LAH platform by 2022 (based on the LCH platform).
The Light Armed Helicopter (LAH) prototype for the country's Army was expected in December 2018. The first operational LAH is set to be delivered to units toward the end of 2022. The LAH is to replace the the Army's fleet of aging MD500 and 70 AH-1S Cobra attack choppers. Following the rollout, engine tests were scheduled in March 2019 and the maiden flight in May 2019. Based on the Eurocopter EC 155 helicopter, the LAH is designed to fly at a speed of upward of 324 kilometers per hour and have a range of some 905 km. Its maximum take-off load is 4.9 tons with the chopper to be equipped with a 20-mm gun and anti-armor guided missiles made locally.
The development of the first Korean anti-tank missile for the helicopter is expected to be accelerated. The original schedule was taken after 2022 since the launch of the Domestic Combat Attack Helicopter (LAH), but the plan is to develop from the armed forces due to changes in conditions. It is expected that the shortening of the development schedule will accelerate the localization of the airborne weapons system, which is the import product. Apart from this, the military is also developing long-range air-to-air and air-to-air missiles for Korean-style fighter aircraft (KF-X). The era of localization of armed forces in both fixed wing (fighter) and rotary wing (helicopter) aircraft is approaching.
By early 2005 the 6,800kg (15,000lb) 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. In April 2005, the Surion Korean Helicopter Program (KHP) was started, to procure 245 military utility helicopters. It meant that South Korea will not pursue attack helicopters.
KAI then examined 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. Subsequently the 10,000-pound light civil helicopter (LCH) and light armed helicopter (LAH) program was initiated to produce around 1,000 choppers for both domestic and export markets.
In a 2008 report on armed helicopter deployment plans, the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA) advised that the defense ministry should only focus on the development of high-end and low-end models because domestically produced mid-end attack helicopter models based on the Korean Utility Helicopter (KUH) platform [similar to the american MH-60 Blackhawk] could not compete with the equally-sized Apache.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff decided in 2009 to heed KIDA’s advice, with the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade (KIET) and the Ministry of National Defense (MND) giving assent in 2010. For about one year thereafter, the Agency for Defense Development (ADD) and the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) led R&D efforts for LAH and LCH, respectively. KAI participated in such efforts as a prototype maker. On 22 July 2014 South Korea's largest aerospace company, Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd. (KAI), said it had been picked as the primary negotiating partner to develop the country's next-generation light civilian and military helicopters. The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy and Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) picked KAI to carry out research and systems development. The other contender for the project was Korean Air Lines Co., which had some experience in building jets and helicopters in the past.
For the military version of the helicopter, which was needed to replace the aging fleet of the country's 500MD and AS-1S, the goal was to develop an operational machine by 2022. This chopper will share the same basic airframe of the LCH but will be armed with weapons and have the latest fire control and avionics systems. DAPA will be in charge of supporting development and procuring state funds. The LAH will make up the low end of the country's armed helicopter procurement plan that involves 36 AH-64E Apache Guardians at the high end.
LCH and LAH would not compete with Surion, since the two choppers are in different weight classes. Surion is a 19,200-pound aircraft and is in the medium-to-heavy category, while the two new types to be developed are "intermediate" or medium-to-light 10,000-pound helicopters in terms of weight class.
In March 2015 it was announced that Airbus Helicopters would 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). As the LCH and LAH competition winner, Airbus Helicopters continued its highly successful relationship with Korea Aerospace Industries, including the joint program that developed Korea’s Surion twin-engine utility transport helicopter.
“We would like to express our deep gratitude to Korea Aerospace Industries and the South Korean government for entrusting us with this major helicopter program,” said Airbus Helicopters President Guillaume Faury. “We are committing our full support in ensuring the LCH and LAH projects will be completed on time, on cost and to specification.”
Both the LCH and LAH will be based on Airbus Helicopters’ H155 (formerly known as the EC155) – the latest evolution of its best-selling Dauphin family, which includes the Panther military and parapublic variants that have demonstrated their capabilities in operation around the world.
As part of the new commitment, Airbus Helicopters would transfer the company’s technical know-how – as already demonstrated in the Surion program – to ensure Korea is able to develop its newest indigenous products, which will become leading next-generation light rotorcraft in the 5 metric ton weight category.
"The LCH and LAH programs will build on our collaboration with Korea Aerospace Industries on the Surion, which has become a reference in successful rotorcraft collaboration. By continuing our relationship, we will significantly reduce the risks of these two new development programs, while meeting all of the mission requirements,” added Faury.
The LCH version is expected to enter service in 2020 while the service introduction of the LAH is targeted for 2022.
Norbert Ducrot, Airbus Helicopters’ Head of North Asia, expressed confidence of the program’s success, which will see parallel development of both the civilian and military versions. “Not only do we have a strong partnership with Korea Aerospace Industries, we have also a proven track record of continued civil and military developments on which the two partners will capitalize for these two programs,” he stated.
Airbus Helicopters’ Dauphin family rotorcraft – on which the LAH and LCH are based – have been delivered to more than 60 customers, with over 1,000 of these helicopters logging nearly five million flight hours in service. The H155 features the same digital four-axis autopilot that Republic of Korea pilots have come to appreciate when flying the Surion, and ensures outstanding hover performance in extreme conditions, along with highly accurate settings for altitude, speed and headind.
Airbus Helicopters is a division of Airbus Group, a global pioneer in aerospace and defense related services. Airbus Helicopters is the world’s No. 1 helicopter manufacturer and employs more than 23,000 people worldwide. With 44 percent market share in civil and parapublic sectors, the company’s fleet in service includes some 12,000 helicopters operated by more than 3,000 customers in more than 150 countries. Airbus Helicopters’ international presence is marked by its 29 customer centers and participations and its worldwide network of service centers, training facilities, distributors and certified agents.
Airbus Helicopters’ range of civil and military helicopters is the world’s largest; its aircraft account for one third of the worldwide civil and parapublic fleet. The company’s chief priority is to ensure the safe operation of its aircraft for the thousands of people who fly more than 3 million hours per year.
The Light Armed Helicopter developed by South Korea completed its low-temperature test flight in Yellowknife, Canada on the edge of the Arctic, where the average temperature in winter drops to minus 32 degrees Celsius. Seoul's Defense Acquisition Program Administration said on 18 February 2022 that the nine-week evaluation program confirmed that it has the capability to withstand extreme cold. Around 165 items were evaluated, by carrying out some 40 test flights. This included the "soaking test", to check that the helicopter's engine and other equipment can function properly after being exposed to temperatures of minus 32 degrees for 12 hours.
"The LAH had already passed the suitability test which checked its ability, load requirements and vibrations. The purpose of this low-temperature test is to see if it can work properly at minus 32 degrees, or in conditions like at around plus or minus 3 degrees. Once this is done, almost 96 or 97% of the development is complete."
These new choppers, developed to protect air assault units and destroy enemy tanks will be equipped with homegrown air-to-land guided missiles, 20-mm machine guns and 70-mm rockets. Korea Aerospace Industries started developing the LAH in 2015, and unveiled its first prototype in 2018. Two years later, it passed the suitability test. If all goes well, the new aircraft will be certified ready for operational use, and will finish development by the end of 2022.
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