Unpardonable drawbacksThe Korean military has decided to cancel deliveries of KUH-1 Surion transport utility helicopters upon learning of potential defects in its engine as well as other parts. In a test administered in the United States early this year, the country’s indigenous twin-engine helicopter failed in 29 out of 101 categories, testing the vehicle flight and operation under freezing weather conditions. The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), however, did not even report the results to the Defense Ministry.
The Surion chopper was developed jointly by the ministry’s Agency for Defense Development (ADD) and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) at a cost of 1.5 trillion won ($1.36 billion) from 2006 to 2012 to replace the UH-1H and 500MD choppers and develop helicopter technology. The sole maker KAI has already supplied over 50 Surion choppers to the Army.
Of course, it is not unusual to conduct operability tests under extreme weather conditions on a military vehicle separately because harsh weather conditions are limited. The earlier batch of choppers also was allowed to operate on the condition that their flights are confined to relatively warm areas because they have not been thoroughly tested out beyond certain mercury and humidity levels.
However, the fact that the authorities kept mum and hid the defect information cannot be excused. KAI claims that although the chopper did not perform well against icy and extremely humid conditions, it has no problem operating in the Korean Peninsula where the winter is relatively less cold and dry.
But it requires a redesign because ice collection on the engine beyond the regulations can be seriously dangerous. Ice can clog and wreck the engine, leading to a fatal fall or explosion. Such risks cannot be taken when weather conditions in Korea are becoming more and more unpredictably cold and hot.
We cannot expect to make a perfect set of helicopters from the first try. But there cannot be any progress if authorities and producers only try to hide the technological shortcomings. The plan of shipping Korean-made choppers to militaries at home and abroad would have to be put on hold to redesign and remanufacture them. More analysis and work should be put into perfecting the technology so as not to risk any lives and our credibility.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 24, Page 26