Korean E-X & Helicopter Competitions Reaching Endgame?
South Korea appears to be leaning toward some clear choices for its Korean Helicopter Program (KHP) utility helicopter competition, and its E-X airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft acquisition program. The projects have a combined budget of 7 trillion Won (about $7 billion).
A deal with Eurocopter has now been confirmed for 245 helicopters, and an Israeli-American consortium based on the General Dynamics Gulfstream G550 is believed to be the front runner in the E-X competiton – if technology transfer approval from the US government doesn’t delay South Korea’s E-X program again.
The E-X Program: Another ITAR Interruption?
South Korea’s much-delayed E-X project now aims to buy four Airborne early Warning And Control System (AWACS) aircraft beginning in 2008, with a budget of Won 1.8 trillion (about $1.8 billion). In the latest round of bidding, Boeing’s E-737 “Wedgetail” slated for service with Australia and Turkey was again pitted against the Israel Aircraft Industries-led consortium’s modified G-550 long range business jet. While all observers agree that the 737 Wedgetail is the more capable system, South Korea’s Defense Ministry seems determined to go with the lowest bidder as long as the planes meet Air Force specifications. IAI ELTA is reportedly asking $1.1 billion compared to Boeing’s $1.5 billion.
This is not a completely irrational approach, if South Korea sees the military threat as fairly narrowly focused from North Korea. With water on three sides, a fairly narrow border zone, and an arsenal of short range aircraft and cruise missiles on the other side, the Defense Ministry may consider the “EG-550” proposal may to be perfectly adequate for Korea’s military needs.
The IAI consortium consists of General Dynamics’ Gulfstream Aerospace, Israel Aircraft Industries’ Elta Systems Ltd., and L-3 Communications. Gulfstream Aerospace will provide a G550 aircraft with all the necessary modifications, which will be made easier by the fact that the Israeli Air Force has already selected the G550 for its signals intelligence and AEW missions. Elta Systems Ltd. will provide the main sensors for the aircraft, including the phased-array AEW radar, electronic support measures (radar emission detection) equipment and the mission system. L-3 Communications Integrated Systems will provide the complete communications suite, including data links and the main ground segments that will give the ROKAF complete interoperability with any U.S. military aircraft deployed to South Korea.
Unfortunately, Korea’s much delayed plan to buy airborne early warning systems recently hit another snag in the form of defense technology export authorizations. Five of the G550’s items fall under an export ban by U.S. authorities, because the equipment was made with technological support from the U.S:
- Data Links (Link 11 and Link 16 capabilities) for automatic data exchange with other aircraft, ground stations, air defense units, et. al.
- IFF (Identification Friend or Foe)
- Satellite communications module
- UHF/VHF Have Quick Radio
- GPS P(Y) code technology
The Chosun Ibo recently reported this revelation from a source in Korea’s Defense Ministry. Korea has apparently asked the U.S. to confirm that the technology is banned for export, and that Seoul has asked Washington for help and authorize export to Korea if it is. See DID’s coverage of the ITAR situation with Britain for additional background re: the process involved.
Without a U.S. export authorization for the Israeli equipment, the W1.8 trillion (about US$1.8 billion) E-X project could be delayed again. The ministry was to select the bidder for four airborne early warning and control or AWACS systems after another assessment in a meeting on Dec. 12 and make a final decision after price negotiations. If authorization is not forthcoming, however, the Israeli product would once again drop out of the bidding. The Chosun Ibo reports that this could delay selection again until next year, even as tensions remain high on the Korean peninsula.
UPDATE: That is exactly what happened… but what happened after that was a bit of a surprise.
KHP: Eurocopter the Winner? (Yes.)
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. This was a cut-down project from the original effort, which aimed at a core platform that could have utility or attack helicopter sections built onto it to create a pair of aircraft with significant commonality. Note that the US Marine Corps new Bell UH-1Y Huey and AH-1Z SuperCobra are an example of a high-commonality utility/attack approach.
A total of five 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 helicopters to replace UH-1H Hueys currently in service. South Korea now owns some 700 helicopters, but more than half are considered outdated. Industrial offsets are also important, as the program is designed to boost indigenous industrial manufacturing capability for rotary-wing aircraft.
On Dec 12, 2005, DID relayed the Chosun Ibo’s reports that Korean Aeronautics Industries (KAI) had 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 Defense Ministry will finalize its decision after consulting a committee on the KAI recommendations and investigating the potential for technology transfer.”
That turned out to be so. On December 13, 2005, Eurocopter announced that it had won the 245 helicopter contract:
“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.
KAI is the prime contractor for the Korean Helicopter Program. As the primary partner of KAI, Eurocopter will provide technical assistance and supply the transmission and autopilot subassemblies for the helicopter. Eurocopter has a stake of 30% in the development phase and 20% in the production phase.
Chosun Ibo clarified. The deal with Eurocopter is worth Won 1.3 trillion ($1.3 billion), and is for research and development only. Contracts for the Won 4.1 trillion ($4.1 billion) production project will be struck separately once it is clear how much technology transfer has occurred by around 2011.
Some sources DID has found indicated that their KHP project bid may be based on the Dauphin-derived EC155/ AS 565 Panther, and the diagram provided in the Chosun Ibo report appears to bear that out. According to Eurocopter:
“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.”
Given that Korea is a 245 helicopter order, the clear implication is that this will be a variant of an existing product with few to no applications beyond Korea. DID will add to this report should further specifics arise.
See “Eurocopter’s KHP/KUH Helicopter Deal” for full coverage of the subsequent contract and program developments.
Additional Readings and Sources
- GlobalSecurity.org – E-X Early Warning Aircraft
- Air Force Technology – 737 AEW&C Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft, USA
- General Dynamics Gulfstream – G550
- GlobalSecurity.org – Gulfstream G550. Details the Israeli contract, along with some other military prospects.
- DID (June 6/06) – Korea Approves Eurocopter’s KHP Helicopter Deal
- EADS (April 12/06) – 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.
- Chosun Ibo (Dec 5/05) – E-X Projects Hits Fresh Snag Over Banned Equipment
- The Dong-A Iibo (Dec 1/05) – As Ties Wane, So Does Taste for US Arms
- Chosun Ibo (Nov 28/05) – U.S. Envoy ‘Made Pitch for Boeing’s E-X Bid’
- Chosun Ibo (Nov 20/05) – Defense Mega-Projects in Snub to U.S. Arms Makers
- Chosun Ibo (Oct 25/05) – E-X Project Down to Two Bidders Again
- C4SI Journal (June 17/04) – U.S. firms team with Israel’s Elta to bid for South Korean AEW aircraft
- GlobalSecurity.org – Korean Helicopter Program
- Aerospace Technology – EC155. Army Technology covers the AS 565 Panther military variant.
- Chosun Ibo (Dec 13/05) – Korea Picks European Firm for Chopper Project
- EADS Eurocopter (Dec 13/05) – Korean Government Selects Eurocopter