Fresh off the heels of becoming the first export customer of the tilt-rotor Bell V-22 "Osprey" platform, the Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF) has selected the Bell Model 412 as its new general transport amidst growing tensions with China in the South China Sea. The decision to go with the proven Model 412 is a sound one, promising low-cost procurement and on-time delivery. The Bell product - to be produced locally under license by Fuji Heavy Industries - beat out challengers from Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) and Airbus Helicopters to secure Fuji a short-term future in the Japanese rotary-wing aircraft market. FHI owns an advantage in having teamed with Bell to produce earlier marks of the famous UH-1 "Huey" / "Iroquois" transport helicopter of Vietnam War fame. The product was one of the most iconic and popular helicopters of the Cold War decades. The last UH-1J built by FHI came in 2007.
The Model 412 formed the FHI submission for the JSDF's "UH-X" helicopter competition initially won by Kawasaki in 2012. Kawasaki lost its bid when the government cancelled its commitment due to bid-rigging accusations. Fuji had been pushing the Bell 412 since 2009 and was awarded the new contract in 2015 based on a proven track record, its experience with Bell products and its delivery and performance promises. The selection of the Model 412 means that the Huey line will continue in production and service for a time longer that ever envisioned, already over 55 years since the original single-engined UH-1 was introduced with American forces. A much-improved mark then followed with a twin-engine arrangement.
Fuji has manufactured the UH-1H as the UH-1J locally and these were produced with 2 x Allison T53-L-703 turboshaft engines of 1,800 horsepower each. A vibration-reduction system, night-vision equipment support and IR-based countermeasures were part of the local improvements.
In 1981, the Model 412 was introduced by Bell and since then over 870 examples have been delivered. This model was based on the earlier Bell 212 but had a composite four-bladed main rotor as part of its major improvements. The earlier Bell 212 featured a two-bladed main rotor. The Bell 412 also forms the basis of the Canadian Army's CH-146 "Griffon" series of 1995 to which 100 were built.
The Model 412 has seen its fair share of variants produced since its inception. The Model 412 marked standard versions with Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) PT6T-3B engines. The Model 412 EPI became a "glass cockpit" version outfitted with P&WC PT6T-9 electronically-controlled engines and represents the main American market variant. It is this model series that will be represented in the JSDF inventory. It is assumed that the Japanese military will remain largely faithful to the American product and will retain its PT6T engines (military designation of "T400") but with more modern onboard systems to suit JSDF over-water operations. The twin engine layout, a requirement of the UH-X program, will provide increased survivability over water when transporting Japanese troops to island hotspots in the region. These two engines driver power to a single-gearbox which, in turn, manages function of the four-bladed main rotor and a twin-bladed tail rotor (fitted to port side).
The UH-X Model 412 will no doubt also support mounting of various weapons including rocket pods, gun pods and door guns. The fixed landing skid will do away with a more complicated retractable undercarriage. Internal seating will be for two flight crew and up to eleven combat-ready troops. Beyond its obvious military applications, the UH-X is also expected to serve in humanitarian relief roles as called.
As of this writing (2015), the UH-X is expected to be procured in 150 total systems with development set to begin before the end of 2015. Production is set to span into the early 2040s extending the life of the UH-1 family that much further. A civilian market form will also be offered by FHI to help offset the gaps in the expected military batch orders. Possible customers may include regional partners in South Korea and elsewhere. Barring delays, the UH-X should become a JSDF mainstay in 2021.
The Japanese Navy is also currently on the lookout for its own general troop transport and has arranged a program under the "UH-X" designation as well, though the two programs are independent of each other adding an air of confusion.
July 2018 - The Model 412EPI, now designated the "412EPX", has achieved certification. A prototype has been completed.
September 2018 - The UH-X remains on schedule with production by Subaru set to begin in April 2019 and first-deliveries set for 2021-2022.
December 2018 - The prototype UH-X flew for the first time on December 25th, 2018 completing a flight lasting 55 minutes over Utsunomiya. At least 150 UH-X units are required by the Japanese military to succeed an aging line of UH-IJ transports.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Ground Attack (Bombing, Strafing)
Ability to conduct aerial bombing of ground targets by way of (but not limited to) guns, bombs, missiles, rockets, and the like.
✓Close-Air Support (CAS)
Developed to operate in close proximity to active ground elements by way of a broad array of air-to-ground ordnance and munitions options.
General transport functionality to move supplies/cargo or personnel (including wounded and VIP) over range.
55.8 ft (17.00 m)
45.9 ft (14.00 m)
14.8 ft (4.50 m)
6,790 lb (3,080 kg)
11,905 lb (5,400 kg)
+5,115 lb (+2,320 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the Bell Model 412EPI production variant)
2 x Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6T (T400) turboshaft engines developing 1,000 horsepower each and driving four-bladed main rotor and two-bladed tail rotor.
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