South Korea currently owns around 700 helicopters, but more than half are considered outdated, and they need to be replaced. December 2005 marked the endgame for a South Korean competition to produce about 245 utility transport helicopters, which would be developed and produced as a semi-indigenous program. The KHP/ Surion is in the 8-tonne class, and is designed to carry 11 troops. Industrial offsets were also important, as the program is designed to boost Korea’s ability to design and build its own rotary-wing aircraft. EADS Eurocopter was chosen as the cooperating partner.
The Korean government gave its final approval of the contract in June 2006, and the project is underway. Note that while company releases place the program’s value at $6-8 billion, the program hasn’t reached that level yet. The initial contract was for KRW 1.3 trillion ($1.3 billion), and is for research and development only. That development finished in April 2013, and the main production contract is next. It will proceed in parallel with additional contracts to develop Surion specialty versions for Korea’s federal police and Marine Corps, and all of these models will be offered for export through a joint venture with Eurocopter.
The KHP (now KUH) Program
In February 2005 the Ministry of National Defense announced that would launch a multi-billion-dollar procurement project to build utility helicopters in December 2005. A total of 5 trillion won ($4.5 billion) was budgeted for this Korean Helicopter Program (KHP), including research and development expenditures.
The project is aimed at producing hundreds of “Korean Utility Helicopters” (KUH) to replace the aging UH-1H Hueys currently in service. Industrial offsets are also important considerations, as the program is designed to boost indigenous industrial manufacturing capability for rotary-wing aircraft.
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This was a cut-down project from the original effort, which aimed to create a core platform that could have utility or attack helicopter sections built onto it, creating a pair of helicopter types with significant commonality. That original effort was not necessarily an overstretch; the US Marine Corps new UH-1Y Hueys and AH-1Z attack helicopters already embody a high-commonality approach.
The KUH/attack approach does add complexity risk, however, and South Korea ended up buying the AH-64E Apache to address their attack helicopter needs. At the lower end, KAI is developing a Light Armed Helicopter, but commonality is limited to “utilizing technology acquired through KUH development.”
Program and Industrial
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The KUH programme was formally launched in 2006. As of October 2007 the KHP project began to take the name “Korean Utility Helicopter,” and its July 2009 rollout saw reports that began to refer to it as the “Surion” (suri = eagle, on = perfection).
Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) is the prime contractor. As the primary partner, EADS Eurocopter will provide technical assistance, and supply the rotor mast, transmission, and autopilot subassemblies. Eurocopter has a stake of 30% in the development phase, and 20% in the production phase.
The initial contract was worth KRW 1.3 trillion ($1.3 billion at the time), and covered research and development only. By the time development finished in 2013, it had spent just KRW 1.2 billion, despite running a bit more than a year past its deadline.
Contracts for the KRW 4.1 trillion production project will be struck separately. Full scale production was expected to begin in 2012, but development wasn’t finished until April 2013.
Initial market expectations were stated as 250 helicopters, indicating a very limited market beyond South Korea’s order. Eurocopter later revised this to 300 machines, and the business plan changed again when the partnership decided that they would offer a civilian version after 2011. This was a significant move, as the design would compete with existing Eurocopter offerings like the new 7 tonne EC 175. By 2013, expectations had grown again, to 400 civil government and military machines in South Korea alone.
In the military market, South Korea’s Yonhap News agency quoted an anonymous government source in July 2009, who said that:
“Seoul also aims to win 300 overseas orders for the KUH in the next 25 years, a government official said on condition of anonymity. That is roughly 30 percent of the projected global demand for Surion-type choppers, which are larger than the UH-1 Iroquois but smaller than the UH-60 Black Hawks.”
As of April 2013, KAI is still using those figures as its export target, even though the competitive field has become more crowded. That’s a tall order if you’re up against competitors like the AW189, Bell 525, and EC175, plus slightly larger de facto competitors like the EC Puma family, Mi-17, NH90, and Sikorsky H-60 family.
Some initial sources indicated that their KHP project bid would be based on the Dauphin-derived EC155/ AS 565 Panther, and the diagram initially provided in local media reports appeared to bear that out. The final design bears some similarities to the EC155 and the Puma family, but many differences.
The KUH Surion is 15m long x 2m wide x 4.5m high, with a maximum takeoff weight of 8.7 tonnes. It’s powered by 2 of GE’s popular T-700 turboshaft engines, and incorporates HUMS prognostics throughout the helicopter to provide constant monitoring and advance warning of mechanical issues. Range is reportedly around 480 km.
The cockpit and frame will be armored to handle 7.62mm strikes, while the fuel tanks will be armored up to resist 12.7mm or 14.5mm rounds. More active warning and protection systems are provided by a partnership between EADS Cassidian and South Korea’s LigNex1, and include the widely used AN/AAR-60 MILDS missile warning system.
Expected personnel capacity is 2 crew plus up to 9 fully-armed soldiers. There are some online sources that give the helicopters 4 hardpoints and weapons up to wire-guided TOW missiles, but KAI’s own materials say nothing about that, and there have been no reports of weapon trials.
Contracts & Key Events
2016 – 2018
December 26/18: Army resumes Surion flights South Korea’s Army is again flying its fleet of KUH-1 Surion helicopters. The Army suspended all flying missions of its Surions after a navy version crashed in July this year, killing five of the six Marines aboard and injuring the other. To ensure the safety of the aircraft the Army conducted a comprehensive inspection of the helicopter’s rotor mast and several test flights. The Army has so far checked about a third of its fleet of 90 Surions.
April 5/18: De-icing tests The Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) KUH-1 Surion helicopter has wrapped up several months of de-icing tests in the US, with the helicopter on its way back to South Korea. Testing took place at Sawyer International Airport, Michigan, with staff from both KAI and the South Korean Army joining US Army personnel for the work. This is the second year in a row that Seoul has brought aircraft to Sawyer for testing.
January 12/18: Deliveries South Korea’s Marine Corps has received delivery of its first two MUH-1 multi-role utility helicopters. Based on KAI’s KUH-1 Surion, the new variant has been cleverly/lazily dubbed the Marineon—Marine, Surion, Marineon, get it?—and features an external fuel tank, specialized radio equipment, flotation devices, as well as a folding main rotor that will allow the helicopter to operate from Dokdo-class amphibious assault ships. 32 units have been ordered as part of efforts to create an independent aviation unit for the marines, while an additional eight will go to the South Korea’s navy. Deliveries are expected to continue to until 2023, at least.
July 24/17: Ha Sung-yong, the CEO of Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), has offered to step down after Korean prosecutors raided his company’s offices to gather evidence as part of the Surion utility helicopter scandal. Allegations levelled at the firm include that charge that the company inflated expenses for the development of the Surion military helicopter and pocketed illicit gains—to the tune of $21 million—in the process. Ha, who last year said he would resign if KAI’s T-50 was not selected for the USAF’s T-X trainer program, offered to resign again during a board of directors meeting, and a successor will be chosen at an extraordinary shareholders’ meeting, to be arranged for as soon as possible.
July 18/17: Prosecutors in South Korea have raided the offices of the nation’s only aircraft manufacturer, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), after allegations that the firm inflated the research and development costs of a weapons program. Although the project in question has yet to be officially revealed, South Korean media believe that the wrongdoing occurred during the development of the Surion helicopter, where KAI allegedly defrauded the state-run Defense Acquisition Program Administration out of $41.8 million. This marks the first investigation since reformist prosecutor Yoon Seok-yeol was appointed as head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors‘ Office. Yoon was a member of an independent counsel team involved in the probe that impeached former President Park Geun-hye and her administration on corruption charges.
January 4/17: Korea Aircraft Industries (KAI) has secured a $523 million contract to provide KUH-1 Surion transport helicopters to South Korea’s marines. The deal covers the production and delivery of 30 helicopters, expected between 2017-2023. Modifications found on the marine variant include foldable blades, emergency floats that can deploy with the press of a button, optional long-range fuel tanks, as well as the ability to carrying nine fully equipped marines in addition to four crew members.
September 26/16: It’s back to the drawing board for KAI’s KUH-1 Surion as the Korean-made utility helicopter failed a number of extreme climate tests in the USA. If successful, the testing would have given the Surion an international standard and boosted export chances. Several parts will now be redesigned to rectify the defects found during the testing, which puts the helicopter through very challenging humid and freezing temperatures.
2012 – 2013
ROK certifications; Development complete; ROK orders maritime version.
Oct 16/13: Sub-contractors. Elbit Systems announces a follow-on contract for full production of improved ANVIS/HUD 24 Helmet Mounted Displays to equip production Surion helicopters. The initial order that made them part of the project (q.v. March 25/09) was for the system development phase, which ended in March 2013. Sources: Elbit Systems: ANVIS/HUD 24T brochure [PDF] | Oct 16/13 release.
April 16/13: Surion ATH. South Korea’s DAPA procurement agency announces a KRW 800 million (about $733 million) project to develop the ROK Marine Corps’ transport and utility helicopter, which will be a Surion variant. KAI is scheduled to complete development by the end of 2015.
The helicopters will serve on the ROKS Dokdo LHD, and the ROKN also possesses LST ships whose helicopter decks may be able to accomodate the 8-ton class machines. DAPA projects that the Surions “will help double the Korean military’s independent landing operation capability,” while offering greater range than their existing UH-1 Hueys.
KAI’s release is optimistic, forecasting a potential Korean demand of up to 400 helicopters over the 20 years for the ROK’s Army, Marine Corps, Police (vid. 2011 entry), a future MEDEVAC variant, and orders/variants for South Korea’s Coast Guard, Fire Department and Korea Forest Service. They’re also holding to their original forecast of 30% share within global segment demand of over 1,000 helicopters, even though several competitors have entered this segment since the Surion began development.
If KAI’s accompanying graphic looks realistic, that’s because they photoshopped a Surion on top of a real 2010 picture, replacing the USN SH-60F Seahawk that was actually flying over ROKS Dokdo. But they didn’t strip the picture’s metadata, which is actually kind of honest. KAI.
Surion naval utility: system development
March 28-29/13: KAI announces that the KUH/ Surion has completed its development, making South Korea the 11th country in the world to develop a helicopter. The firm says that total investments from KAI, DAPA, and the ROK Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy totaled KRW 1.2 billion (around $1.1 billion). The program involved a combination of KAI, Eurocopter, and government research bodies; and included 98 local vendors, 49 foreign partners, and 28 colleges/research institutes. Overall, about 62.5% of the KUH project budget was “localized” in Korea.
The 4 prototypes successfully completed around 2,700 hours of flight tests, and checked about 7,600 test requirements. KAI.
Surion base model development complete
Feb 21/13: Testing. The Surion finishes low-temperature testing in Alaska, USA. South Korea gets plenty of its own cold weather, but you might as well go where you’re guaranteed ultra-frigid conditions. The tests involved about 50 flights. KAI.
June 2012: Certified. South Korea bestows airworthiness and military certifications on Surion. That seems like an odd thing to do before development is complete. Even if it’s necessary to allow deliveries, certification often means that subsequent fixes are the government’s responsibility. Source: KAI.
2008 – 2011
Surion rollout and 1st flight; Police version SDD; Export JV established.
2011: Police version. KAI’s English press release is unclear, but they refer to an apparent agreement with the Korea Police Agency to develop a Surion version for them. The KNPA is a national police force under the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, and they have 10 “squadrons” of SWAT teams whose tasks include counter-terrorism and hostage rescue. Source: KAI | Shephard Media.
July 13/11: Sub-contractors. EADS Cassidian announces a “multi-million euro” contract from Korean Aircraft Industries to supply 24 of its AN/AAR-60 MILDS (Missile Launch Detection System) missile warning systems, with deliveries continuing until 2013. Each system uses about 4 passive sensors, which detect the ultraviolet radiation signature of approaching missiles. Cassidian was working with Korea’s Lig Nex1 to develop the helicopter’s overall electronic countermeasures system, and delivered 36 sensors during the development phase.
MILDS is widely used on a number of helicopter and aircraft models, and EADS’ cooperation in the Surion’s design made it an almost certain choice here.
May 3/11: KAI-EC. Korean Aerospace and Eurocopter establish the KAI-EC joint stock company, based in Seoul to export the Surion helicopter. KAI.
KAI-EC export JV
June 22/10: Official maiden flight. The official maiden test flight is conducted at KAI’s facility in Sacheon, South Chungcheong. Another 3 test helicopters will be built, and test flights will continue through September 2010. This will be followed by “mass production” beginning in March 2012, and “full-scale production” beginning in June 2012. DAPA Commissioner Byun Moo-keun reiterated the program’s core rationale during his speech:
“Despite the fact that our military ranks in seven in the world in operating the number of military helicopter, we have been relying on foreign countries in importing major technologies in developing functions and maintenance… The successful development of Surion has not only led in operating the military tactics efficiently but also formed the basis in improving our own aerospace industry technology.”
See: South Korean MND.
March 10/10: Fly! The Surion has its 30-minute 1st flight at Sacheon, including taxi, hover turns, and a stationary hover at 30 feet. KAI says the flight test program will see the helicopter flying at 140 knots and 2,000 feet by April 2010, and an official ceremony of the first flight will take place in May 2010. Defense News | Shephard Group.
Nov 2/09: Sub-contractors. Elbit Systems announces that KAI has named them as one of their top 4 Elite Suppliers for the Korean Utility Helicopter (KUH) program, during the firm’s supplier symposium. Elbit supplies the helicopter’s ANVIS/HUD Helmet Mounted Displays, Vehicle Information systems (VIS) and a Data Transfer Systems (DTS). They’re also a subcontractor to KAI for systems engineering and integration of the entire KUH avionics system.
Oct 1/09: KAH delayed. The South Korean government decides to delay its proposed Korean Attack Helicopter program, which was expected to share some 60-70% commonality with the KUH/ Surion. Flight International.
July 31/09: KAI formally unveils the first KUH helicopter, at a ceremony in the southwestern city of Saechon. Attending dignitaries include South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. The new helicopter will be called the “Surion,” and the Yonhap News report says that it sources 60% of its parts from local manufacturers, including the rotor blades and its prognostic health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS). The prototype is due to fly early in 2010, and will eventually be joined by another 3 flight test aircraft. Lee Jae-hong, head of the South Korean Ministry of Knowledge Economy’s machinery, aerospace and defense industry division, adds that:
“Even though it is a military helicopter, the KUH already satisfies 96% or 2,363 of the 2,460 international operational standards for civilian helicopters.”
March 25/09: Sub-contractors. Flight international reports that Elbit Systems has received a contract from Korea Aerospace Industries to supply “advanced helmet-mounted display systems” for the KUH program. The initial contract covers those development aircraft due to be delivered in 2009-10, but continued cooperation could lead to follow-on orders to equip the entire KUH fleet, and possibly other Korean helicopters as well.
Elbit’s ANVIS/HUD combines day and night vision goggles with key flight symbology, allowing “head up, look-out flying at all times. It has been used by the US military since the mid-1990s, and has equipped more than 5,000 helicopters belonging to 20 countries. Integrated platforms include the H-60 series, CH-53, CH-47, CH-46, V-22, AH-1, UH-1, Super Puma, Cougar, and others. Elbit’s HeliDASH system is a higher end choice.
The KUH HMD fits somewhere in the middle. Elbit personnel describe the Korean order as “…the ANVIS-HUD24 with additional capabilities which I am not at liberty to specify.”
2005 – 2007
Eurocopter wins deal; Contract approved; MoU for joint venture; Innovative fuel bladders; Defensive suite picked.
Oct 18/07: Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and Eurocopter sign of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to create a Joint Venture (JV) Company for the worldwide sales and marketing of the Korean Utility Helicopter (KUH). It will be in operation by 2010. With a shareholding structure of 51% for KAI and 49% ownership for Eurocopter. Eurocopter role is to provide technical assistance for the development of the helicopter as well as certain sub-assemblies, the transmission, and the autopilot. About 40 Eurocopter engineers are housed at Sacheon (Korea) with KAI.
The Eurorcopter release sets expected Korean orders at about 250 KUH helicopters, while estimating KUH production at “an order of 300 helicopters.”
Oct 15/07: Sub-contractors. EADS Defence & Security announces that it will equip the KHP helicopter with its MILDS AN/AAR-60 self-protection system. Over 5,000 AN/AAR-60 units have been produced and installed aboard a wide variety of rotary wing and wide body aircraft, often as part of a multi-spectral suite of sensors; a version for fighter aircraft is under development.
This advanced, passive imaging sensor detects and tracks the ultraviolet emissions of approaching missiles. All approaches have advantages and disadvantages. As Aramada Magazine’s “Fighting an Invisible Threat” explains, ultraviolet seekers tend to be more effective at lower and slower targets, and are less vulnerable to false acquisitions such as decoys. The sensors are also smaller, lighter and require less cooling. On the flip side, they are more vulnerable to atmospheric conditions, and tend to have poorer sensitivity and resolution than other options such as infrared.
EADS DS will provide the equipment for the development phase, but from 2008 onward the sensors will be integrated by the Korean company LIGNex1 into the KHP self-protection system.
Oct 15/07: KOIS reports that a real-size model of the KHP/KUH transport helicopter will be on display at the Seoul 2007 air show that opens in Seongnam Oct 16-21/07. This will be the first time the helicopter’s form and interior design will be unveiled publicly. The development program is now code-named “Korean Utility Helicopter (KUH),” and aims to produce a prototype in 2009 and begin mass-production in 2012. KOIS adds:
“Under the 1.3-trillion-won ($1.38 billion) program, Korea aims to produce 245 advanced transport helicopters. The DAPA also expects exports of the envisioned helicopters, each priced at around 15 billion won. The 14.7-meter helicopter can carry two gunners and nine other troops, along with two pilots.”
March 1/07: Sub-contractors. GKN Aerospace announces that they have been selected by Hanwha Corporation to supply fuel bladders for the Korean Helicopter Programme (KHP). This contract, awarded by Hanwha Corporation, has a value approaching $3.5 million and is the culmination of a lengthy collaboration. Phase 1 of the contract involves completing the development activity which will be finalized this year, followed by testing and initial production during 2008. Phase 2 commences in 2009, with preparation and first assembly activities at Hanwha’s facilities in Korea.
The fuel bladders will be manufactured using a GKN developed, MIL spec material, which is far more flexible than current materials. This flexibility eases and speeds installation and greatly reduces the potential for damage to the bladder during the installation process. The material is also lighter than current products and, critically, offers a faster self-sealing capability in the event of damage during helicopter operations. GKN release.
Oct 31/06: MEP solicitation. KAI release:
“For the Korean Helicopter Program (KHP) propelled by Republic of Korea Government, notice of solicitation for korean/foreign industries participation is hereby issued in the area of Mission Equipment Package (MEP) whose development efforts will be led by Agency for Defense Development and procurement activities will be led by Korea Aerospace Ind., Ltd. (KAI) or Nex1 Future Co., Ltd.”
Full solicitation [PDF].
June 2/06: Final approval. The Korean government gives its final approval of the KHP/KUH contract.
April 12/06: DAPA OK. South Korea’s DAPA (Defense Acquisition Program Administration) formalizes the decision to acquire 245 utility helicopters to be developed by Korea Aerospace Industries Limited in partnership with Eurocopter, and produced as from 2011 onwards. EADS release.
Dec 12/05: Korean Aeronautics Industries (KAI) announces that it has wrapped up KHP negotiations with the French-German manufacturer Eurocopter, as opposed to Bell Helicopter of the USA or the Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland. The Chosun Ibo reports that “The Defense Ministry will finalize its decision after consulting a committee on the KAI recommendations and investigating the potential for technology transfer.” The next day, EADS Eurocopter’s release confirmed a win on the 245 helicopter contract, adding:
“The 6-year KHP development phase will run from 2006 to 2011; In the following 10-year production phase, 245 helicopters are to be manufactured… The KHP helicopter is in the 8 metric ton class and is capable of carrying 2 pilots and 11 troops with an endurance of well over two hours. The helicopter is equipped with the very latest technological advances.
Eurocopter and KAI have agreed to set up a 50/50 subsidiary to market the export version of the KHP helicopter. Forecasts needs for this utility helicopter on the world market are set at 250 machines over 20 years.”
Development actually takes until April 2013.
Eurocopter wins KHP
Additional Readings & Sources
* KAI – KUH-Surion
* Army Technology – KAI Surion Light Utility Helicopter, South Korea
* GlobalSecurity.org – Korean Helicopter Program
* Wikipedia – General Electric T700
* DID (Dec 14/05) – Korean E-X & Helicopter Competitions Reaching Endgame?
* The Dong-A Iibo (Dec 1/05) – As Ties Wane, So Does Taste for US Arms