Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and AgustaWestland would jointly develop a derivative of the AW169 if the Italian-British manufacturer is chosen for South Korea’s LCH-LAH helicopter program.

"AgustaWestland considers that KAI will have a major role to play in the global LCH-LAH program, with a significant influence on the development and production of the military variant," AgustaWestland says.

Airbus, Bell and Sikorsky are also contenders for the program, which aims at the nearly simultaneous development of the LCH, a light civil helicopter of about 4.5 metric tons (10,000 lb.) weight, and the LAH, an armed derivative for the South Korean armed forces.

The South Korean government last month chose KAI over Korean Airlines as the preferred prime contractor. KAI is now considering its choice of a foreign partner that will supply a base helicopter design or at least key technology. Its options range from Bell’s offer of a drive train, around which a new helicopter would be developed, to AugustaWestland’s proposal to adapt the new AW169, which needs little or no development for civil use.

AgustaWestland is, however, holding out the possibility of KAI working on the AW169 global production program. "KAI’s contribution to AgustaWestland’s global sales will be very dependent upon the quality and cost-effectiveness of KAI’s solution and AgustaWestland has certainly not ruled out this opportunity," it says in a written response to Aviation Week’s inquiries.

AgustaWestland estimates potential AW169 production at 45-50 units a year.

Although the AW169 is sold as a civil helicopter, it was designed for military roles as well, the manufacturer says. "These also include scout, armed reconnaissance and possibly naval utility applications, thanks to its inherent versatility." Of those three military functions, the first two are part of the South Korean army’s requirement, more than a decade old, to replace MD-500 and AH-1 armed helicopters. A naval requirement for LAHs has also been reported.

Airbus is offering to work with KAI to upgrade its 5-ton EC155, meaning that the South Korean company would get much development experience from the program. Sikorsky has suggested its S-76, of up to 5.3 tons, as the basis of the LCH-LAH, emphasizing the low risk inherent in the proven design of its helicopter, which dates to the 1970s. AgustaWestland, by contrast, promotes the AW169 as offering the latest technology.