Discussions are reportedly under way in Japan to acquire a new utility helicopter for the Japanese Ground Self-Defence Force (JGSDF). The eventual procurement cycle could last a decade and be worth around $2 billion. The ambition is to replace the 150+ Bell Helicopter UH-1H/Js utility helicopters that were manufactured and improved under license by Fuji heavy Industries.
The last UH-X program was awarded to Kawasaki Heavy Industries in early 2012, but was cancelled the following year after two GSDF officers admitted to leaking information to the bid winner. Fuji Heavy Industries had also been a competitor in the project.
Although talks are in their preliminary stages, there has only been a Request for Information (RFI) that has not yet been followed by a Request for Proposals (RFP), according to a source at AgustaWestland. But once it has, then it is likely that the company will offer one of its utility aircraft, probably the twin engine AW169, through its distributor Mitsui Bussan Aerospace (MBA). MBA has been the official distributor of the AW169 in Japan since December 2012 and for the AW139 since 2005. The gross weights of the UH-1 and AW169 are similar at around 9,000 lbs and 9,900 lbs, respectively.
Japanese UH-1J. Photo courtesy of Japanese Ground Self-Defence Force
The project is known as the UH-X and in addition to providing Japan’s self-defense forces with new equipment, it is also being discussed as a potential export for export. Foreign manufacturers are being consulted.
Sikorsky has a 60-year license agreement with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) that was celebrated by both parties earlier this year. Robert (Bob) Kokorda, vice president of sales and marketing at Sikorsky said that MHI has built over 226 Sikorsky H-60s over that time (badged in Japan at SH-60s) and exclusively for use by the Japanese Ministry of Defence since 1988. “They are restricted by constitutional law [which prevents them] from exporting defense equipment,” said Kokorda. “That means that we don’t use them as [part of] our supply chain either. They manufacture everything in country and have in fact developed their own blade for their SH-60J Kai helicopter.”
Korkoda further noted that MHI had made changes to the originally licensed product and is now the airworthiness authority for the aircraft. “They have taken our base data and made their own modifications. They also did major modifications to the Sea Hawk designs. In particular their cabin size is larger. They did some incredible engineering on our original designs.” In total more than 600 Sikorsky-licensed helicopters of all types have been built for the Japan Self-Defense Forces.
However, now the Japanese government is looking to reform Article 9 of its constitution, written after World War II, which prevents Japan’s government from using war to settle international disputes. It may be possible that Japan will reform its military to allow aggressive action to protect allies or during international peacekeeping operations. Within this, it may also allow the export of military equipment such as helicopters.
Most recently, the Japan National Police Agency took delivery of its first Sikorsky S-92, and the Japan Coast Guard selected the Sikorsky S-76D for its ship-based operations. “We believe the S-76D’s legacy and versatility make it a solid solution for the UH-X program,” noted a Sikorsky spokesman.
Bell Helicopter and Fuji Heavy are believed to be preparing to offer the Bell 412 utility helicopter for the UH-X, according to a Reuters news agency report (June 10, 2014). Bell offered no comment on the story. It is also understood from the same source that Airbus Helicopters with partner Kawasaki Heavy Industries would offer a new design. Airbus corporate spokesperson Gloria Illas told Rotor & Wing that the organization “can only confirm our interest in developing our business relations with Japan in the military segment.” Due to ongoing Japanese MOD consultation, she could not comment further.
Related: Utility Helicopter News