On December 18, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) held a ceremony to unveil its Light Attack Helicopter (LAH). The program is a joint development with Airbus Helicopters, based on the 4.9-tonne H155 Dauphin, which Korea selected in preference to the Leonardo AW169 to form the basis for both its LAH and LCH (Light Civil Helicopter) projects.
Attending the ceremony was the Republic of Korea’s vice minister of national defense, Seo Ju-seok, who stated, “The LAH, as a helicopter with high-tech navigation and a high degree of mobility, is a big feat for the Korean defense industry. The ministry will give its full support to the stability of the domestic industry, including improvements in weapon system development and export support at the government level.”
Design of the LAH began in June 2015, three months after Airbus and KAI had announced the H155-based LAH/LCH joint program, which builds on the success of the earlier Korean Utility Helicopter teaming that produced the H225-based Surion. The basic design of LAH was completed by August 2016 and detail design was finished in November 2017. The first example is scheduled to make its first flight in May 2019, with the first units to enter service in 2023.
For its light attack role, the LAH is fitted with a sensor turret on the nose, underneath which is a three-barrel 20mm cannon. Stub pylons on either side of the cabin can mount various rocket pods and missiles.
KAI expects to build approximately 200 LAHs for the Republic of Korea Army to replace Bell AH-1 Cobras and aging MD 500 Defenders. They will serve alongside the Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian, of which 36 have been acquired. The LAH is also to be offered for export. In November 2015 KAI and Airbus signed a memorandum of understanding that covered global joint marketing and after-sales support for both LAH and LCH. Airbus does not offer an armed version of the H155, but armed Dauphin-based helicopters have been developed in China as the Harbin Z-9W and its WZ-19 tandem-seat derivative.
In the meantime, the parallel LCH program is progressing toward its expected service entry in 2021. A French-built prototype/pattern aircraft made its first flight at Marignane in July 2018, and a second helicopter is now being built in Korea with a high degree of Korean components. It is due to fly in the second half of 2019.
Able to carry up to 15 passengers, the LCH is to be operated by a number of government agencies, such as police, fire and forestry services, which are also customers for the larger Surion. Between the two types, KAI predicts sales of around 300 helicopters to government agencies.