South Korea to replace Black Hawks with homemade Surion helos, says lawmaker
SEOUL - South Korea's defense procurement agency plans to replace the fleet of Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters flown by the army with KUH-1 Surion supply helicopters developed by Korea Aerospace Industries, according to a legislature.
Main opposition People Power Party MP Han Ki-ho unveiled the plan ahead of a parliamentary review of the Defense Acquisition Program (DAPA) administration next week.
According to the legislature, the DAPA has decided to decommission 103 UH-60P helicopters by reversing plans to upgrade the American medium-lift helicopter, which has flown for about two decades.
"The UH-60 upgrade plans were suddenly revoked last May," Han, a retired three-star army general, quoted a feasibility study by the government-funded Korea Institute for Defense Analyzes. "Instead, the defense authorities decided to produce additional Surion helicopters."
According to the study, it would cost around 3.3 trillion won ($ 2.9 billion) to manufacture about 130 helicopters with Surion troops, which is more than five times the price of UH-60 upgrades.
"Compared to the UH-60 Black Hawk, the KUH-1 Surion has a flight time of 84 percent and a flight distance of 83 percent," said Han. "Surion has seating for nine troops, but the UH-60 can carry 11 troops."
Despite gaps in performance and costs, DAPA has prioritized the economic benefits of making the helos locally, legislators said. "DAPA is ignoring the results of a credible feasibility study and is merely trying to discard the UH-60 upgrade plans that have been on track for the past eight years since 2013," he added.
The twin-engine KUH-1 was jointly developed in 2009 by Korea Aerospace Industries and Airbus Helicopters, formerly known as Eurocopter, to replace the aging fleet of UH-1Hs and 500MDs that have been in service for decades.
KAI is expected to supply the South Korean Army and Marine Corps with around 220 Surion units by 2023 under contracts with the DAPA. The aircraft manufacturer also developed the light, armed version of Surion - the Light Armed Helicopter (LAH) - based on the Airbus H155.
The LAH development is a parallel effort with the Light Civil Helicopter (LCH). The Korean company plans to develop the 4.5-ton LCH by 2021 and then convert it to the LAH by 2023. KAI launched a LAH prototype in December 2019.
The LAH is armed with the 20 mm Gatling cannon under its nose. The aircraft is also equipped with 70mm missiles, missile early warning systems and laser / radar warning receivers.
KAI plans to build about 200 LAHs to replace Bell AH-1 Cobras and older MD 500 helicopters flown by the South Korean Army.
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