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South Korea To Buy 36 AH-64E Attack Helicopters

May 1, 2013

US AH-64 Apache
Last month South Korea’s government office for arms purchases the Defence Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced Boeing’s AH-64E had been chosen as the ROK’s newest attack helicopter.

In a lengthy bidding process involving rival offers from Bell’s AH-1Z Cobra and Turkey’s own indigenous T-126—itself derivative of the Italian Mangusta attack helo—the AH-64E’s robust specifications prevailed.

As the latest variant in a weapon system that is not only combat-tested but an export success, South Korea’s upcoming AH-64E Defender will soon join East Asia’s most formidable helicopter armada.

But what makes an AH-64E Defender stand out from its siblings, the AH-64D and earlier variants?

Marketing. The AH-64E is a re-branded AH-64D Block III.

The announcement of the winning bid came after months of tense saber rattling in the Korean peninsula. The beginning of the year was especially fraught with North Korea’s belligerent posturing. On February 13 the hermit state under Kim Jong Un conducted an underground nuclear weapons test.

In the ensuing weeks the non-stop provocations from the North revolved around a possible missile test.

Meanwhile, South Korea has more or less kept its cool. Its severest action being to support a fresh round of sanctions and pull workers from an industrial park along its border. It also responded with joint exercises involving the US.

The AH-64E fleet is going to cost the South Korean government between $1.5-1.6 billion, although an independent estimate claims the total could reach $3.6 billion. The exact price for each of the 36 helicopters and their avionics is unknown. A single AH-64E, which is an upgraded AH-64D Block III, can cost $41 million. It’s propelled by four composite rotors and boasts two 1,994 horsepower General Dynamics T-700-GE-701D. The AH-64E goes into combat with a familiar weapons suite that includes a 30mm cannon plus mounts for Hydra rockets and Hellfire missiles.

via Yunjin Lee/Korea Aero Photos

via Yunjin Lee/Korea Aero Photos

The AH-64E replaces South Korea’s aging fleet of AH-1 Cobras that have long been in a tank hunting and close air support role. The first batch of AH-64Es is due in 2016 and the order is expected to be completed by 2018. At the same time South Korea’s own indigenous multipurpose helicopter, the Surion, enters production in the same period.

The announcement is not only a win for South Korea, whose armed forces are more than a match for its northern rival, but an unprecedented success for Boeing.

Last year, the aviation giant broke into the Indian arms market with a successful AH-64D bid. The Apache series, with several hundred fielded by the US military alone, is a bestseller among staunch US allies like Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Taiwan, and Singapore.

Recent buyers include the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Indonesia.