Last Friday, myself and a few other reporters sat with Ralph Crosby on a round-trip flight to Columbus, Mississippi, and back.
Crosby, CEO of EADS North America, wanted to show off his company’s scantly-covered factory where Eurocopter EC-145s will be assembled as UH-72s for the US Army.
My purpose was related, but different. I wanted to know what Crosby does next after winning the both the UH-72 order and a share of the KC-X contract. Crosby was nice enough to oblige. Read the story on Flightglobal.com, or continue reading here.
EADS North America chief executive Ralph Crosby has offered aglimpse into his company’s plans for consolidating on its recentsuccess in winning a share of a massive US Air Force contract toconvert 179 Airbus A330-200s into US Air Force KC-45A tankers.
That deal, primed by EADS partner Northrop Grumman, remains in limbopending the resolution of a formal protest and an aggressive lobbyingcampaign launched by losing bidder Boeing. But despite a politicalbacklash that greeted the USAF’s tanker selection, Crosby is confidentsales of Airbus – and other EADS-built airframes to US militarycustomers has only begun.
And EADS is actively positioning at least four other European aircraft to win US military contracts within the next five years.
The candidate airframes include the A400M airlifter, a modified A321 for surveillance missions and two helicopters – the NH Industries NH90 and the Eurocopter AS332Super Puma – for utility and support roles. Even further, Crosby, wholost a battle in 2002 to succeed Kent Kresa as Northrop’s boss, hopesto eventually fashion an in-house capacity to integrate systems ratherthan merely supply platforms.
Crosby also acknowledges “serious interest” in Finmeccanica’spursuit of DRS Technologies, although the two firms have now announceda $5.3 billion tie-up.
But EADS is likely to continue to seek acquisitions in the defenceelectronics sector as a step toward building systems integrationexpertise.
Crosby says the A400M occupies a sweet spot in the US market thatmay emerge after 2013. Airbus foresees an interim airlift need emergingduring an expected 10-year gap between the USAF’s planned shutdown ofBoeing C-17 production and development of a next-generation airlifter.
As to whether the USAF contract would require Airbus to switchengines to meet US sourcing laws, Crosby says: “The A400M will meet the’buy American’ requirement for US content.”
The A400M is powered by the 11,000shp (8,200kW) Europrop International TP400. Europrop is a collaboration between Rolls-Royce, MTU, Snecma and ITP.
But there is at least one North American-based alternative engine.Pratt & Whitney Canada was originally selected by Airbus to powerthe A400M with a turboprop based on the PW800 engine family.
The A321, meanwhile, is being positioned as a candidate to replacethe US Navy EP-3E Aries II fleet, an electronic intelligence platform.Crosby describes the A321 as an ideal candidate to compete against anew version of the Boeing 737-based P-8A for the EPX contract, butdeclines to elaborate.
Finally, either the NH90 or the A332 could potentially compete for along-delayed contract called the common vertical lift support platform(CVLSP) to replace ageing Bell Helicopter UH-1 helicopters, Crosbysays.
That mission is focused on dispatching 17-man security teams tofar-flung launch silos for intercontinental ballistic missiles operatedby US Space Command.
EADS believes it is competitive only in the event that the USAFkeeps the Boeing HH-47 Chinook as a combat search and rescuehelicopter. That contract remains in dispute. If either the LockheedMartin/Agusta Westland VH-71 or the Sikorsky HH-92 eventually wins theCSAR-X order, EADS believes its offerings would no longer becompetitive for the CVLSP.
Since joining EADS North America in September 2002, Crosby has grownthe US-based business unit’s annual revenues by nearly 100% to morethan $1 billion and captured two major – and surprising – productionorders from the US Department of Defense.
EADS’s most visible victory in the US market by far is the KC-Xcontract, but the company is desperate to call attention to a moreobscure – but significant – helicopter order by the US Army.
The UH-72A light utility helicopter is simply a redesignatedEurocopter EC145 now in production in Columbus, Mississippi. As astrictly non-combat-rated aircraft, the UH-72A is intended to fillpeacetime roles so the army can dispatch all available Sikorsky UH-60sinto combat.
Col Neil Thurgood, director of the army’s utility helicopters office, has praised the responsiveness of EADS.
“The thing that I see is their commitment to our soldiers,” Thurgood says. “When there is an issue, there is a response.”
The light utility helicopter offers an important proving ground forEADS North America to burnish its reputation as a reliable supplier.The USAF’s source selection team on KC-X contacted the army’sacquisition officer for the light utility helicopter to learn about thecompany’s performance record. Thurgood will not elaborate on the army’sresponse, but says it was mainly positive.
Crosby is keen to keep that reputation intact: “We’re only as good as our last screw-up.”