South Korea Army signs contract for new Light Attack Helicopters

On December 2023, South Korea, through its Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), has finalized a significant contract with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI). The deal, worth 1.4 trillion won (approximately $1.08 billion), is aimed at enhancing the aerial combat power of the National Army by introducing new Light Attack Helicopters (LAHs).

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Korea Aerospace Industries wins major deal to modernize ROKAs Aerial capabilities with new LAHs   The LAH has been developed from the Eurocopter EC155 following an agreement between the multinational manufacturer Airbus Helicopters and KAI made in 2015 (Picture source: KAI)

Under the terms of the agreement, KAI will deliver these cutting-edge helicopters to the Army by the fourth quarter of 2025. Developed with indigenous technologies, these helicopters are set to replace the aging fleets of MD-500 and AH-1S Cobra helicopters, as indicated in KAI's recent statement.

This development goes beyond mere replacement; it represents KAI's strategic effort to diversify its helicopter offerings. Plans are in motion to develop specialized armored helicopters for special operations and advanced command-and-control helicopters, all based on LAH technology.

This contract follows a significant 300 billion-won (approximately $230 million) agreement signed last December, in which KAI committed to start the production of LAHs for the Army. The initial deliveries of these helicopters are scheduled to begin by late 2024, marking a major step in modernizing the country’s defense capabilities.

The series of contracts with DAPA underscores KAI's crucial role in strengthening South Korea's defense arsenal. The focus on indigenous technology and diversification in aerial warfare equipment highlights South Korea's commitment to bolstering its military strength and self-reliance in defense technology.

The addition of these new LAHs is expected to significantly enhance the operational effectiveness of the South Korean Army, providing a modern edge in aerial combat scenarios and reinforcing national defense.

The LAH is derived from the Eurocopter EC155, following a 2015 agreement between multinational manufacturer Airbus Helicopters and KAI. It is capable of performing multiple mission roles, including light attack, close air support, escort, and troop transport duties, and is set to replace both the MD500 Defender and AH-1S Cobra helicopters of the Republic of Korea Army (ROKA). On July 4, 2019, the LAH completed its maiden flight, and KAI reportedly aims to finalize its development by 2022. The company has also proposed several conceptual variants of the LAH, including an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and a troop-transport Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) model.