S. Korea pushes ahead with development of homemade attack choppers for marine force

By Lim Chang-won Posted : April 27, 2021, 08:39 Updated : April 27, 2021, 08:39

[Courtesy of Korea Research Institute for National Strategy researcher Kim Dae-young]

SEOUL -- A state arms procurement agency won final approval to push for the development of new attack choppers that would support landing operations by South Korea's marine force, based on a homemade transport utility model which has been in service, instead of field-proven foreign models.

A conference chaired by Defense Minister Suh Wook on April 26 endorsed a military project to develop the attack version of Marineon, the amphibious variant of South Korea's home-made transport utility helicopter called "Surion." Some 1.6 trillion won ($1.44 billion) will be spent from 2022 for nine years.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said that decision-makers have comprehensively considered various factors such as operational requirements, compatibility with Marineon helicopters, the efficiency of maintaining operations, and future combat operations such as a manned-unmanned teaming system.

To replace an aging fleet of utility helicopters for military and civilian use, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), the sole aircraft maker in South Korea, has developed the Surion with technical assistance from Airbus, a European aircraft manufacturer. Since its development was completed in July 2012, Surion choppers have been delivered to South Korean troops.

A Marineon chopper crashed on a test flight at a naval airbase in July 2018, killing five soldiers. State inspectors found that poor heat treatment caused a crack in the roto mast provided by a French company. Marine Corps commanders called for the deployment of highly maneuverable and field-proven helicopters, but the defense ministry favored homemade weapons.

Through rapid economic and technological advancement, Seoul has tried hard to localize expensive weapons. KAI has been involved in the development of South Korea's first light-armed helicopter (LAH) to replace an aging fleet of MD500s and AH-1S Cobra. Based on H-155, the development of KAI's light attack helicopter began in 2015 for completion in late 2022.

The LAH model carrying a 20mm machine gun and four anti-tank missiles or 70mm rocket pods is capable of flying at a maximum speed of 324 kilometers (201 miles) per hour. KAI plans to attach "Cheongeom," a homemade air-to-ground missile.

In March, KAI tied up with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) on cooperation for a manned and unmanned teaming system. Using IAI's unmanned aerial system technology, KAI would demonstrate an operation system combining loitering munitions and helicopters. A loitering munition, also known as a suicide drone, loiters around the target area for some time and attacks once a target is located. The weapon enables fast reaction times against concealed or hidden targets and allows more selective targeting.

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