Bell defeats Boeing with 407 ARH

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Incumbent supplier of US Army reconnaissance helicopters wins competition, but decision may spark protest

Bell Helicopter, the incumbent supplier, has defeated Boeing to clinch a US Army contract to deliver 368 armed reconnaissance helicopters (ARH) over six years.

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The Bell 407 ARH is intended to replace and outperform the Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior as an aerial scout and armed escort for ground units. The army has awarded a $210 million contract to Bell to launch a three-year system development and demonstration phase, but there remains confusion about the full value of the contract.

Bell said on 29 July the contract is valued at $2.2 billion, but the army announcement listed a $3 billion cost estimate. Earlier this year, the army released budget documents showing the programme is projected to cost $2.36 billion. Neither Bell nor army officials were able explain the discrepancies late last week.

Boeing’s losing proposal was based on a modified MD Helicopters MH-6 Little Bird. The company has kept most details of its proposal secret, but is known to have offered a Little Bird with a six-bladed main rotor, an improved engine and tailrotor drive system and enlarged cargo doors to support a lightweight weapon-carriage system.

“The Boeing team is disappointed to have not been selected to produce the armed reconnaissance helicopter for the US Army,” Boeing says. “We will review the decision over the next several weeks and will have more to report at that time.”

Both army and Bell officials declined requests for interviews last week, as the period has not expired for Boeing to file a potential protest of the decision with the Government Accountability Office.

Highlights of the Bell ARH configuration include a FLIR Systems Brite Star II sensor, with forward-looking infrared, colour TV, laser rangefinder and laser designator/spot tracker. The 427 engine is the uprated Honeywell HTS900, and a later upgrade may ramp up to the HTS1000. The cockpit features the US Army’s Rockwell Collins common avionics architecture system.

In addition to the technical package, the army’s requirements placed a premium on production capability. The ARH contractor is required to deliver the first four aircraft in fiscal year 2008, followed each year through FY14 by deliveries of 34, 35, 81, 90, 90 and 34 aircraft.

STEPHEN TRIMBLE/WASHINGTON DC