Japan’s next-generation UH-2 multirole medium helicopter is set to enter service with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) following the completion of its development programme, the Ministry of Defense’s (MoD’s) Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA) announced on 24 June.
Development of the prototype – then known as UH-X – began in fiscal year (FY) 2015. Images of the prototype painted in JGSDF camouflage colours and undergoing ground engine trials at manufacturer Subaru Corporation’s Utsunomiya facility north of Tokyo surfaced in mid-November 2018.
Following its maiden flight in December 2018, the prototype was delivered to the MoD in February 2019 for further trials. The UH-X is a collaborative effort between Subaru Corporation (formerly Fuji Heavy Industries) and Bell, aimed at replacing that JGSDF’s ageing UH-1J helicopters.
Thirteen UH-2 helicopters have been funded thus far. ATLA in March 2020 awarded the company contracts worth a cumulative US$129 million to produce the first six UH-2 helicopters, with deliveries set to be completed by January 2023. More recently, the MoD budgeted about US$112.5 million to acquire seven more UH-2s in the latest fiscal year.
The MoD plans to replace the JGSDF’s increasingly obsolescent fleet of 127 UH-1Js with about 150 UH-2s over the next two decades. In its 2019-2023 Mid-Term Defence Program (MTDP) published in December 2018, the ministry outlined plans to acquire an initial batch of 34 new helicopters at a unit price of about US$16.2 million during the five-year period.
The MoD is expecting the UH-2 to be used by the JGSDF for a range of missions, including supporting the defence of Japan’s remote islands and transporting personnel and supplies during interventions for national contingencies such as natural disasters.
The UH-2 is twin-engine helicopter that is based on the Subaru Bell 412EPI commercial helicopter and features a four-bladed main rotor, unlike the single-engine UH-1J which has a two-bladed main rotor. The UH-1J itself is a licensed-produced and locally updated variant of Bell’s UH-1H Iroquois platform.
The MoD is also looking to replace its legacy Bell Subaru AH-1S Cobra attack helicopters that were first delivered in 1979. Approximately 59 of these helicopters are still in service but they could be replaced under the AH-X programme. Although the JGSDF’s army aviation assets have traditionally been land-based, a May 2018 RfI released by the MoD indicated a desire for the next-generation attack helicopter to be capable of mounting shipboard and expeditionary operations.
by Jr Ng