If anyone was counting on European rotorcraft powerhouse Eurocopter, through EADS North America, acting as a counterweight to the teaming of Boeing and Sikorsky in pursuit of the U.S. Army's future vertical-lift requirements, it is time to think again.

On the eve of the Army inviting successful bidders to negotiate cost-sharing agreements to fly advanced rotorcraft in 2017, EADS withdrew its bid for the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) technology demonstration. JMR is the precursor to the planned Future Vertical Lift (FVL) Medium program to replace the Army's Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks beginning in the mid-2030s.

EADS North America has withdrawn its proposal for the JMR Phase 1 air-vehicle demonstration to focus company resources on the service's Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) requirement, CEO Sean O'Keefe informed Assistant Secretary of the Army Heidi Shyu in a May 29 letter. O'Keefe said EADS had “painstakingly reviewed our resource needs . . . [and] determined that the Army's most urgent need and our most significant investment to date is for a competitive AAS platform.”

EADS North America was one of five known bidders for JMR Phase 1. The Army declines to say who received the nod, but Bell Helicopter and a Sikorsky-Boeing team confirm they have been selected.

Sikorsky-Boeing has “been invited by the U.S. Army to negotiate a Technology Investment Agreement (TIA) for the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator Phase I program,” says the team, which proposed a 230-kt compound helicopter based on Sikorsky's X2 coaxial-rotor/pusher-propulsor configuration.

Suppliers of 80% of the Army's current helicopter fleet, Boeing and Sikorsky announced in January that they were teaming for JMR TD and FLV-M. Sikorsky is the lead for Phase 1. Boeing is heading the team's bid for the Phase 2 mission-system demonstration, which is running two years behind the air-vehicle program. At the time, they expected Eurocopter, through EADS, to be the strongest competitor for JMR/FVL.

Abandoned by V-22 partner Boeing, Bell proposed a 280-kt. tiltrotor and is assembling an industry team. Small Fort Worth-based AVX Aircraft says it has also been selected to negotiate a TIA, as a “Category 1 participant.” The company is proposing a 230-kt. coaxial-rotor/ducted-fan compound helicopter.

EADS, meanwhile, is focused on proposing the AAS-72X/X+ for AAS, while also lobbying to reverse the Army's fiscal 2014 budget decision to prematurely end procurement of the U.S.-assembled UH-72A Lakota light-utility helicopter on which the Armed Aerial Scout would be based.

But an AAS competition is looking less certain as the Army struggles with budget cuts. The service may be forced to choose between near-term replacement of its Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior and long-term investment in an FVL family of advanced rotorcraft to replace initially the UH-60, then the Boeing AH-64 Apache, but eventually everything from the OH-58 to the Boeing CH-47 Chinook.

“The Army's concept development plan for JMR to replace AAS with an aircraft that meets the needs of the force currently met by the OH-58, AH-64 Apache Block III, UH-60M and CH-47F/G appears to be very long term and an open-ended industry resource commitment,” O'Keefe told Shyu.

EADS has invested heavily in company-funded development of the AAS-72X/X+, derived from the Eurocopter EC145, and is finalizing a cooperative research and development agreement with the Army to conduct weapons testing. Citing the fiscal constraints caused by sequestration and budget instability, O'Keefe said EADS's “plan is to focus our resources and our world-class teammates on the AAS competition. As such we will withdraw from further consideration for the JMR/FVL concept development effort.”

Army leadership, meanwhile, has said the path forward for AAS is either a service-life-extension program for the OH-58D/F or a new development program. After evaluating five off-the-shelf candidates, including the AAS-72X/X+, “we did not find a single aircraft out there that could meet Army requirements,” Lt. Gen. William Phillips, principal military deputy for acquisition, said in May.

“If we go forward with AAS, it essentially will be a new development program,” Phillips told a congressional hearing. Army Secretary John McHugh told Congress the airframes evaluated do not provide the “generational progress” required. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said the decision the service must make “is do we think technology is far enough along that it can really provide us generational change . . . or do we have to reinvest in the Kiowa and wait for the technology.”