April 18, 2013
South Korean decisions announced this week confirm that the country will considerably strengthen its rotary-wing force over the coming decade.
The South Korean army will take delivery of 36 Boeing AH-64E Apache helicopters between 2016 and 2018, the government says, announcing a long-expected decision to buy the aircraft. The country’s marine corps, meanwhile, has taken a step toward finally getting the helicopter force that it has been campaigning for, with the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) Surion lined up for an order.
The army has wanted Apaches since the beginning of last decade, or earlier. So it is no surprise that the Defense Acquisition Programs Agency says Boeing has defeated Bell, which offered the AH-1Z, and Turkish Aerospace Industries, which offered the T129, a derivative of the AgustaWestland A129 Mangusta.
The order for heavy attack helicopters will be worth 1.8 trillion won ($1.6 billion), says Yonhap news agency. “As from North Korea’s standpoint the new helicopters would be perceived as asymmetric weapons; they would become a core part of deterrence assets (for South Korea),” the agency says in a statement translated by the Korea Herald. Key roles include stopping maritime infiltration of South Korea by North Korean special forces using hovercraft and, more conventionally for a Boeing helicopter, interdiction of armored forces.
South Korea has a separate program for lighter attack helicopters that is intended to promote the domestic rotorcraft industry, following the development of the Surion, which was the result of the Korean Utility Helicopter program.
The Surion is already in production for the South Korean army. The acquisition agency says KAI has been identified as a preferred negotiating party to supply 40 helicopters to the marines for landing maneuver operations.
Again, the move was expected. With a suitable indigenous utility helicopter in production, selection of a foreign type would have been surprising. If they are finally ordered, delivery of the marine corps Surions should be completed by 2023.