Japan is a trading and shipping power, so it isn’t unreasonable for them to be very concerned about mines. Helicopters are an important adjunct to Japan’s large fleet of 25+ minesweeping ships, and can even serve as a substitute in some situations. Japan’s fleet of 11 MCH-101 airborne mine counter-measures helicopters are closely derived from AgustaWestland’s 3-engined AW101 heavy maritime helicopter, and most are being built in Japan under license by Kawasaki. Mission equipment will include the AN/AQS-24A mine hunting side scan sonar, the AN/AES-1 airborne laser mine detection system, and the MK-104 acoustic minesweeping system.
ECH-101s have good range, and can operate from shore. As an alternative, they can be embarked aboard Japanese ships, especially the JMSDF’s 19,000 ton Hyuga Class “helicopter destroyers” (LPH anywhere else).
2010 – 2016
June 27/16: Leondardo Helicopters is in talks with the Japanese government over the potential sale of a further 12 AW101 helicopters for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. Tokyo already operates seven of an eventual 11-strong fleet of the heavy helicopters configured for minesweeping missions, designated as the MCH-101, plus two of an eventual three CH-101 utility transports. Giovanni Soccodato, Leonardo’s executive vice-president for strategies, markets, and business development, said the company was “close to finalizing” a new contract with the Japanese.
June 18/13: Northrop Grumman announces that they’ve has delivered the 1st of 4 AQS-24A airborne mine-hunting sonars to the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (q.v. July 11/12). The 1st ALMDS wide-area laser mine detection system is slated for delivery “later this summer.”
There’s always a follow-on period of training and tactics development, so it will be a little while before Japan can make full use of these new capabilities. NGC.
Nov 6/12: MEDAL. Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) announces that Japan has picked its Mine Warfare and Environmental Decision Aids Library (MEDAL) counter-mine software control system, for installation into the corresponding ground system for the JMSDF’s MCH-101 helicopters. MEDAL has played a similar role in the US Navy since the mid-1990s, and the USN’s compatible MEDAL system performs the same mission planning, evaluation, and command and control functions.
SAIC will be assisting with engineering and training services as MEDAL is integrated within NEC Corporation’s broader MCH-101 ground support system.
July 11/12: AQS-24. Northrop Grumman Corporation announces follow-on contracts by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) to supply 3 more AQS-24A airborne mine hunting systems, plus ground-based support equipment. The AN/AQS-24 is a towed sonar with an accompanying laser line scanner for optical identification, and the sonar and laser both operate at the same time. It’s deployed from the rear ramp of helicopters like the US Navy’s MH-53s, and the JMSDF will use all 4 systems ordered to date on its new MCH-101 helicopters.
The award of the airborne electronics work marks the culmination of a technology transition that allows some local manufacturing in Japan, and will eventually enable the JMSDF to provide full logistics support for the AQS-24A systems. Additional follow-on efforts for more systems, electronics and support equipment are anticipated in 2013, and will continue until the JMSDF reaches its full operational inventory objective. NGC.
AQS-24 detection sonars
Feb 2/12: ALMDS. Japan becomes the AN/AES-1 ALMDS’ first export customer, buying 4 of the laser mine detection pods to equip its MCH-101 (AW101) medium-heavy naval helicopters. Northrop Grumman will work with Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd., and Fujitsu Ltd. on delivery and installation.
ALMDS uses a fan-shaped beam of laser light detection and ranging (LIDAR) to detect, classify and localize near-surface moored sea mines. The forward motion of the helicopter sweeps the light over the water in a “push broom” manner, and 4 cameras are arranged to cover the same swath illuminated by the laser fan beam. As images are received by the system, an automatic target recognition algorithm picks out potential mine-like objects and stores their images for later classification by fleet operators, using computer-aided post-mission analysis tools. The new system has had some trouble in American tests with false positives, but Japan has worked with Northrop Grumman for a long time, and seems willing to go ahead anyway. Northrop Grumman | Read more in “LCS & MH-60S Mine Counter-Measures Continue Development“.
ALMDS laser mine detection pods
Oct 24/11: AQS-24. Northrop Grumman announces that its AN/AQS-24 towed mine-hunting sonar has been “competitively selected” by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. Under the initial contract, Northrop Grumman’s Undersea Systems business unit will deliver 1 system to Kawasaki Heavy Industries, for integration into Japan’s new Airborne Mine Countermeasures MCH-101 helicopter.
The AQS-24 is currently deployed aboard the US Navy’s even larger MH-53E mine hunting helicopters.
1994 – 2009
From initial teaming through 1st delivery; 1st assembled in Japan MCH-101.
June 17/09: Local spares. AgustaWestland announces an agreement with Marubeni Aerospace Corporation of Tokyo, Japan to establish a local MCH-101/ CH-101 Spare Parts Depot. That will certainly cut turnaround time for spares.
The Spare Parts Depot has been privately funded and will operate initially for a period of 5 years.
March 26/07: Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) has delivered the JMSDF’s 1st licence-built MCH-101. It’s the first EH101/AW101 to be assembled outside AgustaWestland’s production facilities in Italy and the UK, and has 35% local content. Flight International.
March 2006: Japan takes delivery of its 1st MCH-101. It was assembled at AgustaWestland’s Yeovil, UK plan before undergoing conversion at Kawasaki Heavy Industries’ Gifu works. Source.
1st MCH-101 delivery
2003: The first of 14 MCH-101 (Airborne Mine Counter Measures, 11) and CH-101 (Antarctic Support, 3) helicopters was delivered to the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force. Subsequent releases indicate that it was a CH-101. Source.
1st AW101 delivery
2002: The ECH-101 partners enter into a general consultancy and distributorship agreement for the promotion and sales of the AW101. Source.
1994: Teaming agreement signed by AgustaWestland, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Marubeni to compete for Japan’s mine warfare helicopter needs. Source.