Sunday, July 16, 2017

Surion helicopters lack reliability: audit agency

South Korea’s ingenious chopper Surion has defects that make it “unreliable” for flight missions, Seoul’s audit agency said on Sunday, requesting a prosecutorial investigation into the helicopter’s local manufacturer and the nation’s arms procurement agencies.

The Board of Audit and Inspection announced that the helicopter lacks lightening protection and anti-icing capability. It even has an engine leakage and malfunctions in its fuselage and windshield.  

The state-run audit body said Korea Aerospace Industry, Surion’s manufacturer, did not run proper flight tests, while Defense Acquisition Program Administration and its affiliate Agency for Defense Development failed to supervise the procedure.

The audit agency requested an investigation into DAPA chief Chang Myoung-jin, who allowed for continued deployment of Surion in December despite the defects, along with two other DAPA officials.

“We hope the investigation will help us come up with measures to fix Surion’s safety issues,” said the audit agency in a statement. “(The probe) will serve as an opportunity to ensure safety of the pilots and make Surion the best Korean helicopters.”

It was not the first time that the helicopters’ flight safety prompted public concern. In 2015, a Surion crashed due to engine malfunction. In May, 1.2-1.5 centimeters-long cracks were found on the fuselage of eight Surions.

Deployed to the South Korean Army since 2012, Surion is a twin-engine light utility helicopter designed to support various missions including troop assault, search-and-rescue, tactical lift, liaison and medical evacuation.

Designed to fit the mountainous topography of the Korean Peninsula, the helicopters can travel at a speed of 140 knots for more than two hours with nine fully-equipped soldiers and make a vertical ascent at a speed of 500 feet per minute.

The 15 meter-long and 4.5 meter-tall chopper is equipped with an automated navigation device, a multi-functional display system and other high-tech gears. Surions will replace aging U.S. UH-1Hs and 500MDs, which have been in service for more than three decades, according to DAPA.

South Korea's state audit agency said Sunday that the country's transport utility helicopters have various defects including flight stability and requested that the prosecution probe  the arms procurement chief on charges of breach of trust.

The Board of Audit and Inspection said that South Korea-born Surion helicopters are not airworthy as they lack lightning protection and anti-icing capability, while failing to receive proper engine certification. It even reported that the homegrown chopper, also called the KUH-1, has a water leakage problem.

The BAI said it requested a prosecution probe into Chang Myoung-jin, chief of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, and other two officials for breach of trust. Chang determined in December 2016 that the Surions were ready to operate even though they failed to meet airworthiness qualifications.

The BAI said it gave a "warning" to Chang and asked the other two officials, including the head of the Korean Helicopter Program, to be demoted.

The audit agency also ordered Chang to halt delivery of the Surions until their problems are fixed and the DAPA to file damage claims against Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd. It also asked the South Korean army's chief of staff to consult with Chang to come up with safety management measures on the Surions. 

South Korea invested 1.29 trillion won from June 2006 for KAI, the country's sole aircraft manufacturer, to develop the Surion and the project was completed in July 2012 after it was approved for combat-use. Since then, South Korean military has been using 60 Surions in the field.

However, various accidents took place after the chopper went into operation. In January and February 2015, two Surion helicopters made an emergency landing following an engine failure, while another Surion chopper crash landed due to same problem.

The BAI said the 2015 incidents are related to Surion's lack of anti-icing capability and the officials negligence to fix the problem.

From October 2015 to March 2016, the DAPA conducted a set of tests in Michigan regarding the Surion's operation in humid and freezing conditions, but the chopper failed to meet 29 of 101 standards. The DAPA in August 2016 decided not to deliver the Surion to the South Korean army, but after the KAI announced in October that it will fix the problem until June 2018, the arms procurement agency decided to resume delivery of the helicopter even though no measures were taken to correct the icing defect.

The BAI also ordered the South Korean army's chief of staff to request compensation from KAI and the Surion's engine maker Hanwha Techwin Co. for the chopper's crash in 2015 and get a free engine replacement from the two companies.

State prosecutors on Friday, meanwhile raided the offices of KAI on allegations of corruption in a set of major defense projects.

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