Defence Helicopter

Singapore Airshow 2020: Naval rotorcraft refresh expected across Asia-Pacific

13th February 2020 - 01:00 GMT | by Ilker Aktaşoğlu


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For the full article, see the current issue of Air Warfare magazine.

Across the Asia-Pacific region, where maritime territorial disputes are a persistent feature of the security landscape, the naval helicopter market offers a number of opportunities.

Within the region, the naval helicopter market is dominated by two countries: India with 28% of the regional fleet and Japan with 27%.

Other major potential customers in the region include Malaysia, Pakistan, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, whereas Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam have settled status with their recently renewed naval helicopter inventories.

India is the largest operator of maritime helicopters but is moving into a transition period between 2020-25, as it seeks new operational capabilities to replace retiring platforms. The country not only aims to bolster its naval helicopter fleet but also wants to proceed with the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

Delhi’s modernisation ambition in response to ongoing regional tensions brings its spending to more than $7.2 billion in the next ten years, with a potential requirement for up to 244 new helicopters until 2030.

The country’s naval military helicopter modernisation programmes include enhancements in the multirole, AEW, utility and light utility helicopter segments. 

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As the second-largest maritime helicopter operator in the region, Japan is investing in modernisation programmes to keep its dominance in the naval helicopter segment, especially by employing an ASW capability against the Chinese submarine threat in its littoral waters.

Tokyo is looking to replace its ageing fleet of Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters with the procurement of 30-50 shipborne-capable medium attack helicopters for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force through the AH-X programme, for an estimated cost of $800 million. The contract is expected from 2024.

As the first export customer of the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor, Tokyo will boost its maritime capabilities with 17 more units ordered from the US in 2015. The programme has experienced several delays with deliveries, but it is expected to reach completion by 2023.

The Republic of Korea Navy aims to expand its ASW capabilities by acquiring 12 helicopters under the Maritime Operation Helicopter Block 2 programme, to complement eight AW159 Wildcats ordered from Leonardo in 2016. The programme is worth around $804 million.

Taiwan operates seven MD500 helicopters, acquired in 1977, from ex-US Chi Yang-class (Knox) frigates that are being decommissioned after a 40-year service life. 

The Republic of China Navy was seeking eight to ten MH-60R Seahawk helicopters to operate from new guided-missile frigates from 2025, but the $700 million programme has been postponed due to budget issues giving priority to the new vessel projects. 

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Malaysia intends to procure three maritime operations helicopters for about $53.4 million to meet operational requirements in the Eastern Sabah theatre, where Kuala Lumpur remains on high alert since the 2013 Lahad Datu incursion.

Another Royal Malaysian Navy requirement for six ASW helicopters remains open due to funding issues.

Similarly, in January 2020 the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) announced its decision to take 21 Sikorsky S-61As, known also as Nuri, out of service.  

The RMAF is looking for replacements, including the option of short-term leasing. This suggests that strong budgetary constraints are affecting new defence procurement programmes.

Considering the current inventories, their ages and replacement programmes, India will continue to provide the largest opportunities in the naval helicopter market reaching into the 2030s, assuming present acquisitions will move forward through Delhi’s winding procurement process. Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan will follow with their announced requirements.

For more information, see the current issue of Air Warfare magazine

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