Leonardo and Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) have signed a contract to deliver additional MCH-101 naval helicopters to the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF), marking the beginning of a mid-life update (MLU) program for the fleet.

This milestone contract comes as Leonardo, KHI, and Marubeni Aerospace Corporation celebrate their 20-year partnership in the helicopter market and the Japanese AW101 program.

In developing Japan’s naval capabilities, Leonardo and Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) have solidified their long-standing partnership with a new contract to supply MCH-101 helicopters to the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force.

This contract also signals the initiation of a MLU program for the MCH-101 fleet, aimed at enhancing operational effectiveness and aligning the helicopters with the latest avionics configuration.

The MCH-101 helicopters, a licensed version of the renowned Leonardo AW101 platform, play a role in mine countermeasures and transportation missions for the JMSDF. Additionally, the CH-101 variants support utility transport activities, including Japan’s Antarctic research endeavours.

For the past two decades, Leonardo, KHI, and Marubeni Aerospace Corporation have worked together on the MCH-101, with KHI serving as the prime contractor and Leonardo providing technical support for the platform.

Marubeni Aerospace Corporation has distributed spares, ground support equipment, and services. This successful collaboration has now reached a significant milestone with signing the new contract.

The first AW101 aircraft was delivered by Kawasaki Heavy Industries to the JMSDF in 2006, with subsequent deliveries including the Airborne Mine Counter Measures equipped MCH-101 in 2015. With its 3-engine configuration, the AW101/MCH-101 can safely tow the AN/AQS-24A, a high-speed airborne mine hunting system.

Last month, Poland announced plans to acquire 22 AW101 helicopters. The Inspector of the Polish Air Force, Brig. Ireneusz Nowak announced that Poland will purchase 22 multi-role Leonardo AW101 heavy-lift helicopters. 

Kenya Takahashi, Executive Senior General Manager at KHI, expressed pride in the program’s progress, stating, “We are proud that Japan’s MCH-101 program was able to launch additional procurement with the latest specifications and the MLU.” He further noted the potential for common operational requirements among Japan, the United Kingdom, and Italy.

Leonardo’s helicopters have a history in Japan, dating back to the mid-1980s, with numerous deployments in programs. Approximately 160 Leonardo helicopters of various types are in service with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), Coast Guard, Police and Fire Service, and specialized operators in medical and commercial services.

Last month, Leonardo announced their first quarter 2023 results, showing a growing backlog at €39.1bn ($42.6bn), equal to more than 2.5 years of production.