Diverse Needs Across East Asia
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — East Asia is looking at a variety of new utility, attack and special mission helicopter requirements from Western European, Russian and U.S. sources.
Naval and maritime platforms are drawing increasing interest as issues of sea lanes of communication, piracy, cargo traffic and maritime terrorism take a higher profile, and increasing numbers of diesel submarines enter service in the region. Over the past 10 years, Sikorsky and AgustaWestland have claimed the largest share of East Asian helicopter acquisitions.
The attack helicopter market in Asia also has seen renewed growth in recent years. Japan, South Korea and Singapore have bought attack platforms and now Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand are initiating programs to do the same. Competitors include the AgustaWestland AW129, Bell AH-1Z, Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow, Eurocopter Tiger and Mil Mi-28N Night Havoc.
Asian air and land forces are facing the choice of upgrading aging Bell UH-1H inventories or replacing them. Many countries have turned away from the smaller Bell workhorse UH-1 and AH-1 Cobra, made famous during the Vietnam War, to larger platforms such as the Boeing CH-47 Chinook, Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk, Boeing AH-64 Apache and Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopters.
However, Bell Helicopter’s Max Wiley, vice president for the Asia Pacific market, argues that Bell is still in strong demand in Asia in both military and commercial markets.
“There is very strong demand in the Asia/Pacific market for the military application of commercial Bell helicopters such as the 412, 407 and 429,” Wiley said. “In addition, as the V-22, H-1 [AH-1W and UH-1Z] and ARH-70 mature, Bell expects that many international militaries will opt to purchase them in order to increase their tactical and operational vertical lift capabilities.
“Bell has extensive experience in producing and maintaining helicopters that serve military forces in the Asia/Pacific region, and this experience has become a major factor for governments to consider when choosing helicopter solutions for their respective operational needs,” he said.
The Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH-70) program under development by Bell is expected to replace the aging Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, and is a replacement for the abandoned Boeing/Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche program.
Japan selected the Boeing AH-64D to fill a requirement for 60 aircraft. In December 2005, Boeing delivered the first AH-64DJP helicopter to Fuji Heavy Industries for testing, which Fuji now is manufacturing under license with Boeing, which is supporting systems integration and production. The Japanese Army flew its first AH-64DJP in January 2006. The new helicopters will replace AH-1S Cobras.
AgustaWestland and Kawasaki Heavy Industries signed a license and purchase agreement in 2003 to produce and support 14 Japanese EH101s for transportation, airborne mine countermeasure and Antarctic support roles. In October 2006, AgustaWestland also sold three AW139 helicopters to Japan’s Coast Guard for search-and-rescue missions and, in 2007, won a contact to supply the Japan National Police Agency with five AW109 Power law enforcement helicopters.
In 2005, South Korea’s Korea Aerospace Industries partnered with Eurocopter on a $7.6 billion to $12.4 billion Korean Multi-Purpose Helicopter (KMH) program to manufacture utility helicopters to replace aging UH-1H and MD500 helicopters. In January 2007, KAI completed a design for its Korean Utility Helicopter, with deliveries expected to begin in 2012.
KAI also is working on an attack version to replace AH-1 and MD500 TOW attack helicopters with tentative plans to produce 200, but final development is not expected till 2018. Sources say South Korea’s military wants to procure an airborne mine countermeasure platform and is considering the Sikorsky MH60S Naval Hawk, AgustaWestland EH101 and NH90, with a decision slated for 2009. South Korea’s Navy also has an anti-submarine warfare requirement and is looking at either the Sikorsky MH-60R or AgustaWestland’s Super Lynx 300. A decision is expected in 2011.
AgustaWestland has had some success in South Korea. In February, the company announced the sale of two AW139 maritime helicopters to the country’s Coast Guard. Both are scheduled to enter service by the end of 2009 and will conduct maritime patrol, searchand-rescue and emergency-medical-service missions.
China is expected to buy an estimated 10,000 military and commercial helicopters worth some $84 billion by 2020, according to the China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corp. The lifting of U.S. embargos against Indonesia and Pakistan have helped U.S. companies, but China still faces market hurdles due to embargos set in place in 1989 after the Tiananmen Square massacre.
However, Beijing has been acquiring commercial helicopters from the West and is aggressively pursuing design-and-build programs for military aircraft. If all else fails, Beijing can continue to buy Russian equipment. Russian helicopters dominate China’s aviation history, but European firms, such as Eurocopter, and U.S. companies, such as Sikorsky, are working closely with Chinese firms to produce commercial helicopters.
Russia is clearly not being pushed out of the market yet. Andrei Chang, China military specialist with the Kanwa Defense Review, said China and Russia are discussing a technology transfer deal giving China the right to assemble the Mi-171 in Chengdu. Over the past 10 years, China had procured about 90 Mi-171s from Russia.
China has been struggling to keep its 20 Sikorsky S-70C-II utility helicopters operational. Acquired in 1984, the S-70s have been largely grounded since the 1989 U.S. embargo. China has been attempting to acquire parts illegally. In 2006, a Taiwan-based arms agent, Bill Moo, was arrested in the United States while attempting to reship Black Hawk engines to China.
China has also been developing its own indigenous military helicopters build program. In 2000, China began development of the Z10 Zhisheng attack helicopter, a twin-engine utility and attack helicopter. In 2007, it was revealed that several PT6C-67C helicopter engines sold by Pratt & Whitney Canada ended up in Z-10s.
The engines were intended for use in a new 6-ton civilian Chinese Medium Helicopter. How and why they were diverted to the Z-10 program was not explained, but the event demonstrated China’s ability to overcome Western restrictions.
China also is developing the Z-15 to replace Mi-8/17, S-70, Z-8 and Z-9 helicopters for troop transport, anti-submarine warfare, and search and rescue.
Taiwan is moving forward on the procurement of 60 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks for $600 million to replace about 80 Bell UH-1H helicopters, and 30 Boeing AH64D Apaches for about $1 billion for the creation of a new Army aviation squadron.
Taiwan currently has two squadrons of 63 Bell AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters. Taiwan’s Navy and Air Force operate S-70C helicopters in the anti-submarine, searchand-rescue and executive transport roles. The Army received nine Boeing CH-47SD Chinooks in 2003 for transport missions.
In 2004, Manila initiated its 10-year Philippine Defense Reform program aimed at improving its ability to respond to internal security concerns. The Army still has an outstanding requirement to upgrade its 55 UH1H helicopters or replace them. The military received 20 refurbished UH-1H helicopters from the United States in a 2007 agreement, and the military has a small number of Sikorsky S-70s and S-76s, and Bell 205, 214 and 412 helicopters.
The Philippines has a requirement for six night-capable attack helicopters, but the competition is now mired in scandal after members of the Philippine Bids and Awards Committee were accused of impropriety in January when Asian Aerospace Corp. won the $29.6 million contract in September to supply six MD530F attack helicopters. Poland’s PZL-Swidnik complained after it lost its bid to supply the Kania, a version of the Mi2 Plus attack helicopter.