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South Korea planning LAH replacement of legacy helicopters

South Korea's induction of the Light Armed Helicopter into service will allow it to field advanced warfighting capabilities, such as manned-unmanned teaming. (Janes)

South Korea has planned to replace its legacy rotary-wing combat aircraft with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) Light Armed Helicopters (LAHs) within seven years.

A spokesperson of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) told Janes that the LAHs will “replace South Korea's [MD Helicopters] 500 and [Bell] AH-1s … by 2031”.

The LAH programme is a five-ton-class twin-engine helicopter that is based on the Airbus H155. It is slated to be equipped with advanced systems and capabilities to support future warfighting requirements.

South Korea signed an initial KRW302 billion (USD232 million) contract for 10 LAHs in December 2022. On 4 December the Defense Acquisition Program Promotion Committee approved a draft plan for the production of a second and larger batch of LAHs. DAPA said that this second “mass production” plan has a value of KRW5.75 trillion (USD 4.41 billion).

“Through this project, we plan to secure small armed helicopters with improved strike capabilities, mobility, and survivability, and operate them as the army's core air force to destroy enemy armoured/mechanised units,” DAPA said in a statement.

DAPA, however, has not specified how many additional LAHs will be procured to replace the Republic of Korea's (RoK's) MD 500s and AH-1 fleet. “The exact number of the weapon systems is not subject to public disclosure in compliance with relevant Republic of Korea laws and regulations,” the spokesperson said.

The replacement of the MD 500s and the AH-1 ‘Cobras' is based on two factors – their combat obsolescence and age, Janes assesses. Induction of the LAHs will also allow the RoK military to field new capabilities such as manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T).

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