AgustaWestland took the wraps off its contender, the AW169 AAS, for the US Army's Armed Aerial Scout requirement at the Quad-A show in Fort Worth this week.
The full-scale mockup unveiled at the show was minus its rotor blades, but even without them the twin-engined AW169 is a big beast -- one of the biggest of the AAS contenders and, at around 10,000lb gross weight, almost twice as heavy as the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior it is intended to replace.
AgustaWestland makes a virtue of the AW169's size, saying it gives unprecedented cabin flexibility, with room for extended-range tanks, a command-and-control or perhaps manned-unmanned teaming workstation. The Anglo-Italian company also argues a larger helicopter provides the growth capacity that the Army ran out of with the OH-58.
The AAS variant is based on the commercial AW169, which is scheduled to be certificated at the end of 2014. The as-yet undefined mission equipment would integrate via 1553B with the basic AW169's avionics system, which includes large Rockwell Collins-supplied flight displays and AgustaWestland-developed touchscreen control panels.
But sheer size does present the company with a couple of challenges. One is the Army's requirement transportability, and how many could be carried in a C-5 or C-17. AgustaWestland says it has "solutions" for transportability which would meet the Army's disassembly and reassembly time limits, but it is not saying what they are.
The other issue has to be cost. The Army has set a notional maximum flyaway unit cost of $15 million. AgustaWestland will not be drawn out on whether it can come in under that ceiling, preferring instead to emphasize the value of the AW169 AAS's size and performance.
Meanwhile, industry is trying to work out if there even will be an AAS program. The Army had hoped to make a decision this month to buy a new scout rather than extend the Kiowa Warrior's service life, but instead its plans got caught up in sequestration and budget cutting.
"I know we told you we were going ahead, but the truth changed," Maj Gen Tim Crosby, program executive office for Army aviation, told Quad-A attendees. "We are taking a few steps back, so we don't rush to failure," he said. AAS is still in the plans, but the when is uncertain.
Rather that making a decision about one program, Crosby said, the Army is trying to make sure its plans are affordable across its portfolio. For aviation, that means not only AAS, but also the Future Vertical Lift Medium replacements for the UH-60 Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache, the Improved Turbine Engine Program to upgrade and uprate the Black Hawk and Apache, and a new fixed-wing utility aircraft to replace all the ageing C-12 King Airs.
"The modernization plans [as they exist] are not going to happen. They will have to slow down to fit within the Army's affordability band," he said.