Bell and Boeing battle to win ARH

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The only contestants reveal their proposals for US Army competition for armed reconnaissance helicopter

Two competing bids submitted earlier this month for the US Army's 368-aircraft Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) competition present key choices on airframe size, targeting systems and manufacturing capability.

The army's requirements for ARH drove off planned bids by AgustaWestland and Eurocopter. The ARH is to be a roughly $6 million, light single-turbine aircraft equipped with a third-generation sensor, glass cockpit and provisions for rapid loading on to a Lockheed Martin C-130. Production will climb steeply from 2006-11, after an expected contract award in June.

The early February proposal deadline yielded a Bell Helicopter submission based on the 407 and a Boeing-led team offering based on the MD Helicopters-built AH/MH-6 Little Bird. Bell has unveiled a 407 ARH design powered by the Honeywell HTS900 with a nose-mounted targeting sensor based on FLIR Systems' BriteStar. Boeing has revealed only that its ARH offering will be powered by a Rolls-Royce engine, but it is understood that the company is proposing the Raytheon ZSQ-2 targeting sensor already on ordered for the AH-6 by the US Special Operations Command.

Bell plans to use the 407's existing assembly line in Montreal. "What occurs in Canada is very basic assembly," says Bell. "All of the labour intensive parts such as the transmission, main rotor and tail rotor system and all flight dynamics are built in Texas as well as the extremely extensive systems integrations."

Bell says the 407's larger airframe should accommodate more growth in system requirements. Lockheed Martin has signed as Bell's partner for systems integration. Boeing's team includes BAE Systems and simulator supplier CAE. Both bidders are proposing a glass cockpit supplied by Rockwell Collins for the army's Common Avionics Architecture System programme.

STEPHEN TRIMBLE / WASHINGTON DC