PARIS — European Helicopter manufacturer says it believes that Bell’s Kiowa Warrior upgrade program is the only real competition for the U.S. Army’s Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) contest.
The Army is weighing the merits of a new AAS competition against another upgrade of the venerable Kiowa, which AAS would replace. The company’s rivals for AAS arewith the AW169, with the AH-6i, with the MD 540F and with the S-97 Raider.
Eurocopter is highly confident that its AAS-72X family of helicopters — based on the UH-72 Lakota Light Utility Helicopter — will prevail in any scout helicopter competition the Army decides to undertake. The company also believes that a request for proposals could be released by the end of the year.
Speaking in Paris at Eurocopter’s annual press conference Jan. 24, CEO Lutz Bertling told journalists that choosing the AAS-72 would not cost the“millions of extra dollars” in development. The company believes that its experience of providing 450 UH-72s, including the introduction of the Lakota into U.S. Army operations, has given Eurocopter and a strong platform from which to bid.
Bertling also acknowledged the pairing of Sikorsky and Boeing in the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) Technology Demonstrator (TD) program, but doubted that the deal between the two companies would lead to any kind of consolidation, as suggested by some commentators. He said it was likely that Boeing would probably also continue its relationship with Bell to develop a tiltrotor.
Meanwhile, the highly complex Tiger attack helicopter andutility helicopter programs in Europe are being dogged by the push for austerity in defense ministries across the continent.
Eurocopter is talking to Spanish officials about Madrid’s plans to reduce the number of NH90s the Spanish armed forces plan to buy. Spain currently has 45 NH90s on order, but wants to cut that number to 38. So Eurocopter is offering an option to reduce the number of helicopters and buy into a spares and support package worth the same value as the seven helicopters. Neighboring Portugal wants to cancel its entire buy of 10 NH90s, as part of deep cuts being made in government spending. Lisbon has informed the NATO Helicopter Management Agency (NAHEMA), the NATO agency representing countries in their purchase of the NH90, of its intentions. But Portugal may have to pay as much as 20-30% of the contract cost in cancellation fees.
Discussions are also taking place with the German government about its planned reduction in the buy of Tigers and NH90s. Germany still has a requirement for a new naval helicopter to replace the country’s navy Sea Kings and Lynx helicopters. Part of the discussion is understood to include the option of offsetting the cuts and meeting the naval requirement by supplying the NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH) version of the NH90.
The NH90, which is produced by NHIndustries, a joint venture of Eurocopter, AgustaWestland and Fokker, is also being promoted for more exports. Recent offers have been made to Qatar and to meet Norway’s All Weather Search and Rescue Helicopter requirement being conducted by the Norwegian Ministry of the Interior.
The company is continuing to market the EC665 Tiger attack helicopter overseas, but opportunities have been affected by the Arab Spring, scuttling a much hoped-for sale to Jordan. However, opportunities remain with Qatar and also in Malaysia, company officials said. While Germany and Spain send their Tigers to Afghanistan, France has entered the type into its second conflict with operations in Mali. The French army is also getting ready to accept its first Tiger HAD models, capable of firing the Hellfire air-to-ground missile, after French defense procurement agency DGA certified the aircraft for service on Jan. 14.