First units of South Korean LAH helicopters are expected in 2024

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In a development of considerable import, Airbus Helicopters and Korea Aerospace Industries [KAI] have formalized an agreement, thereby initiating the serial production.

In the wake of a contract inked in December 2022, the Defense Procurement Program Agency, a subsection of the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Korea [DAPA], has reached an agreement with Korea Aerospace Industries [KAI]. This accord pertains to the acquisition of an initial consignment of ten Light Armed Helicopters [LAHs], intended for utilization by the nation’s military forces. 

With a staggering procurement value of 302 billion won, equivalent to approximately $235 million, the stage is set for a significant enhancement in Korea’s defense capabilities. The delivery timeline, slated to commence towards the end of 2024, stretches over ten years, reflecting a carefully planned strategic acquisition process. 

Photo credit: Wikipedia

As anticipated, the Republic of Korea Army stands to significantly bolster its air assets with this acquisition. The order, set to span the next decade, could see the Army’s helicopter fleet enriched with up to 150 Light Armed Helicopters [LAH].

In line with an accord formalized on the 31st of August, Airbus Helicopters and Korea Aerospace Industries [KAI] are set to transition into the ensuing stage of their collaborative endeavor. This progression entails an elevation in the production of the Light Armed Helicopter (LAH) at KAI’s notable Sacheon production facility, located within the geopolitical boundaries of the Republic of Korea. 

As part of their commitment to this ambitious project, Airbus Helicopters will facilitate operational augmentation by providing KAI with the requisite series production kits. This provision underscores the synergistic partnership between the two aviation giants, and their concerted effort to bolster the production capabilities of the LAH.

A new variant of KUH Surion

In an endeavor to fortify their existing alliance, the corporations have inked a pact to intensify their obligations under the auspices of the Korean Multi-Purpose Helicopter [KUH Surion] collaborative development initiative. The primary objective of this program is to cater to an extensive variety of military, civilian, and governmental requisites.

Recent times have witnessed the commencement of a collaborative endeavor between the partners, with a focus on the production of novel KUH variants. These include a formidable attack helicopter tailored for the Marine Corps and a mine defense helicopter equipped with cutting-edge technology. These innovative programs promise to capitalize on Airbus Helicopters’ extensive proficiency in flight control systems and drive systems, coupled with KAI’s impressive local manufacturing prowess. 

In addition to this, Airbus Helicopters has expressed the intention of bolstering KAI through an augmented schedule of serial deliveries. This move is envisaged to further solidify the partnership and catalyze the actualization of their joint objectives.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The objective of the Light Attack Helicopter [LAH] development endeavor is to supersede the antiquated attack helicopters, specifically the MD-500 / BGM-71 TOW and the AX-1S Cobra. Spearheaded by the Defense Procurement Program Agency of the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Defense [DAPA], the practical execution of the LAH initiative was inaugurated in June 2015. The ambitious plan envisages the assembly of a minimum of 214 state-of-the-art machines. 

Furthermore, the designers of the LAH project anticipate a robust international demand, with projections estimating the sale of 300-400 units to overseas clientele. This underlines the global significance and potential impact of this initiative in the realm of military aviation.

Civil and military LAH helicopter

In a strategic move designed to streamline costs and efficiency, the Light Armed Helicopter [LAH] development program and the Light Civil Helicopter [LCH] project are being executed concurrently by Korea Aerospace Industries [KAI]. The objective is to achieve a significant 60% amalgamation of the two helicopter models. This unification, a masterstroke of engineering and logistics, is anticipated to drastically reduce expenditure on development, production, and maintenance.

Photo credit: KAI

The anticipated expenditure for the creation of two distinct helicopter models is projected to reach a staggering 1 trillion won, equivalent to approximately $877 million. These two cutting-edge aircraft are founded upon the technological framework of the Airbus Helicopters H-155, previously recognized as the EC-155B1 helicopter project. When factoring in the ancillary costs associated with support and maintenance, the aggregate budget for this ambitious endeavor could potentially escalate to an astounding $10 billion.

On the 18th of December, 2018, the KAI facility was the proud host of the unveiling ceremony for the prototype of the LAH helicopter. Subsequent months saw the initiation of rigorous testing phases, with ground tests commencing in January of 2019, and flight tests following suit in July of the same year. The LAH helicopter received its official certification in 2022, affirming its readiness for operation. 

Looking ahead, the Republic of Korea’s Armed Forces are slated to integrate this advanced machine into their fleet in 2024. This inclusion underscores the ongoing commitment of the nation’s military to harness cutting-edge technology in their operations.


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