LONDON — South Korea has formally chosen the Wildcat helicopter to meet its maritime helicopter requirements.
The decision, while not finalized, will mark the first export order for the new helicopter, which is currently undergoing trials for its operational introduction with the British army later this year. The Royal navy is set to deploy the aircraft on ships in 2015.
The decision was announced by the Republic of Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) on Jan. 15. The agency said that following evaluations based on contract costs, operational suitability and other conditions in the field, the Wildcat had come out ahead of the/ Seahawk.
According to DAPA, there will be an initial order for eight aircraft, with four to be delivered in 2015 and the second four arriving in 2016. DAPA says the deal is worth 589 billion won ($560 million).
The news comes just weeks after the Wildcat lost out to the MH-60R for a nine-aircraft order for the Danish armed forces. South Korean press reports were suggesting a similar outcome in this competition about two weeks ago.
AgustaWestland is protesting the Danish decision to choose the Seahawk, claiming the competition was not conducted in a fair manner in accordance with Danish and European Union rules. The company made an official objection to the Danish Complaints Board for Public Procurement on Nov. 30.
The Korean aircraft will be used for a range of missions including maritime security, search and rescue, anti-ship warfare and anti-submarine warfare. The aircraft will be fitted with a dipping sonar system.
The deal is a significant boost for the Wildcat program and for the company’s Yeovil, Somerset facility. AgustaWestland is currently building 62 helicopters for the U.K. armed forces.
The first aircraft entered service in April 2012 with the British army, while the first navy aircraft is due to be handed over soon, with an initial operating capability expected in January 2015. The company hopes the Wildcat can emulate at least the success of its Lynx predecessor, which is one of the most successful ship-board helicopters. It is still in production, albeit in limited numbers. South Korea adopted the Lynx and flies 24 aircraft. It is likely the Wildcats will replace or supplement some of this fleet.
According to AgustaWestland officials, the Wildcat is competing in at least four other major maritime helicopter procurement programs.
Korea is also set to make a decision on a new attack helicopter. Contenders are believed to include theViper, the AH-64E Apache and the TAI ATAK version of the Mangusta.