The Defense Ministry and the Army are reportedly planning to build 272 new attack helicopters in efforts to replace aging 500MD light attack helicopters and reinforce military capabilities in preparation for their exercise of the wartime operational command. No decision has been made yet on any firm plan or budget. But it is expected that the total procurement amount will reach W10 trillion (US$1=W937), including development and production costs.
"A considerable number of the Army's attack helicopters will be almost 30 years old in 2010. As such, we should procure new next-generation attack helicopters," a military source said January 14. "We have decided to push for this project early to prepare for the Korean Armed Forces' expanded role in exercising the wartime operational command," the source added.
Military authorities are considering plans to begin development next year, producing a prototype helicopter in 2014, and mass-producing 272 units afterwards. The authorities have reportedly allocated a budget to a feasibility study this year.
"To save development costs and time, the prototype of the new attack helicopter will very likely be developed based on the maneuverable helicopter model that is currently under development as part of the Korean Helicopter Program (KHP). Or it might be developed with foreign technology," said a military official.
The KHP is aimed at producing 245 maneuverable helicopters that can carry personnel and equipment. The total cost of this program is estimated at W5,460 billion, including development and building costs. Attack helicopters, equipped with more weaponry and sensors than maneuverable ones, are twice as costly. The attack helicopter project is expected to cost more than W10 trillion.
Military authorities originally planned to mass-produce 477 Korea Multi-role Helicopters (KMH) by developing maneuverable and attack helicopters simultaneously. The idea was to replace outdated helicopters and boost the domestic aviation industry. But amid heated debate over the project scale and technological risks, the authorities decided in 2005 to first develop maneuverable helicopters under the KHP and make a decision on the procurement of attack helicopters later, depending on the success of the maneuverable aircraft.
Originally, the KMH envisioned building only 177 attack helicopters. But the revised program would produce 272 units, an increase of nearly 100, raising questions about why the scale was expanded. The Army reportedly contends that it needs additional helicopters as the Korean Armed Forces have taken over anti-North Korean commando operations from U.S. forces. In the past, the U.S. AH-64 Apache helicopters deployed in Korea were used to deter North Korean commandoes from landing on the coasts.