Leonardo and Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) signed a contract for additional MCH-101 naval helicopters for the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF), and it marked the start of a mid-life update (MLU) programme for the type in Japan. The MCH-101 is a license-built version of the Leonardo AW101 helicopter. The signing, which follows the order for one aircraft placed in 2022, was made as Leonardo, KHI, and Marubeni Aerospace Corporation celebrate a 20-year partnership in the helicopter market and the Japanese AW101 programme.
The JMSDF has ten MCH-101s for mine countermeasure and transportation missions and three CH-101s for utility transport used to support Japan’s Antarctic research activities, ensuring commonality within the fleet. The update programme, which launched this year, will see a batch of aircraft updated to the latest avionics configuration for the MCH-101, aligned to the new helicopters’ configuration and enabling the enhancement of the JMSDF’s operational effectiveness.
Kenya Takaha, Executive Senior General Manger, Marketing Division Aerospace System Company at Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI), said: “We are proud that Japan’s MCH-101 programme was able to launch additional procurement with the latest specifications and the MLU. Japan, the United Kingdom, and Italy all have this excellent platform. We anticipate that there may be common operational requirements in each country, and the introduction of common equipment on the platform can effectively contribute to strengthening the defence capabilities of each country.”
Gian Piero Cutillo, Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters, commented: “We are proud of our close partnership with Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Marubeni Aerospace and today we are excited to celebrate this important milestone and contract. It emphasises the AW101’s important role in Japan’s defence, as well as the outstanding capabilities it delivers among operators worldwide.”
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force MCH-101 Airborne Mine Countermeasures Helicopter. (Photo by Kawasaki Heavy Industries)
The MCH-101 is derived from the Leonardo AW101 utility helicopter, developed and manufactured by EH Industries Limited (present-day Leonardo UK Ltd.), based in Italy and the United Kingdom. Prior to 2007, the aircraft had been marketed under the designation EH101. The original designation was EHI 01, from the name given to the Anglo-Italian joint venture—European Helicopter Industries—but a transcription error changed this to EH101. In 2000, Westland Helicopters and Agusta merged to form AgustaWestland, leading to the type’s current designation. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) ordered 14 aircraft in 2003 to use in both the airborne mine countermeasures (AMCM) and transport roles. The AW101 was modified by Kawasaki Heavy Industries, and the Japan Defense Agency designated the model MCH-101. By incorporating a Japanese-developed minesweeping mission system, the EH101 became the MCH-101. Its family, the CH-101, is currently used as transport support aircraft for Antarctic exploration.
For two decades, Leonardo, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Marubeni Aerospace have collaborated on the MCH-101, with KHI as the prime contractor and Leonardo providing technical support for the platform. Marubeni Aerospace Corporation acts as Leonardo’s Distributor and is responsible for spares, ground support equipment and services. KHI delivered the first AW101 aircraft to the JMSDF on 24 May 2006. In 2015 the first Airborne Mine Counter Measures equipped MCH-101 was delivered to the JMSDF. The AW101/MCH-101 primary task is Airborne Mine Counter Measure and is one of only two helicopter types capable of towing the AN/AQS-24A, the only operationally-proven, high-speed airborne mine hunting system in the world. The unique 3-engine configuration allows for safe operations when towing at low altitude and slow speeds. The first aircraft entered operational service in 2016 and the operator achieved more than 25,000 flight hours in 2021.
The MCH-101 is a license-built version of the Leonardo AW101 helicopter. (Photo by Leonardo)
Leonardo’s helicopters have been in operation in Japan since the mid-1980s in a number of key programmes. Today there are some 160 Leonardo helicopters of different types in service with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF), Coast Guard, Police and Fire Service, with specialised operators for medical and commercial services. With an established presence in Japan, Leonardo is proud to have developed strong relationships with Japanese customers and industry over the years that go beyond the simple supply of products and service. Today, these close collaborations include partnerships and licensing agreements with Japanese industrial partners such as Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Marubeni Aerospace Corporation, Mitsubishi Electric, Japan Radio Corporation and Japan Steel Works.
Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. (KHI, Kawasaki J?k?gy? Kabushiki-gaisha) is a Japanese public multinational corporation manufacturer of motorcycles, engines, heavy equipment, aerospace and defense equipment, rolling stock and ships, headquartered in Ch??, Kobe and Minato, Tokyo, Japan. Based on long-accumulated expertise with helicopter manufacturing technologies, Kawasaki is developing a variety of helicopters, both large and compact. Kawasaki manufactures an impressive lineup of helicopters, large and compact, including the BK117, Japan’s first domestically-developed rotorcraft. For the Japan Ministry of Defense, we produce the CH-471J/JA transport helicopter and the OH-1 observation helicopter, and under a licensed production agreement, we manufacture the airframe and engines for the MCH-101 minesweeping and transport helicopter and the CH-101 Antarctic transport support helicopter.