Cost drove EADS from US Army rotorcraft demonstration

Washington DC
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EADS North America pulled out of the US Army's Joint Multi-Role technology demonstrator (JMR-TD) programme because the cost of developing a high-speed rotorcraft compared to the funding the service is willing to provide is enormous, says the company's top official.

"The number was set so low and the estimate we came back with to develop was so high; this was an invitation to shovel cash into an inferno," says Sean O'Keefe, chief executive of EADS North America.

The army wants the companies participating to develop complex technologies given very limited government funding over a set period of time, O'Keefe says. The maximum service commitment was $75 million over several years, which also covered flyable test articles. "We estimated the cost to be far in excess of that number by multiples," he says. "Wonderful invitation, but we passed."

EADS, O'Keefe says, will continue developing its X3 high-speed compound helicopter design for the civilian market. The offshore oil market is one example where companies would pay for speed, he says. There are also other potential markets where a high-speed civilian rotorcraft could serve, O'Keefe says.

However, O'Keefe notes that the EADS North America JMR-TD proposal was not totally based on Eurocopter's X3 prototype, but it did leverage aspects of that aircraft's technology. The X3, O'Keefe explains, was designed for a very specific purpose and could not directly be developed into an operational military aircraft.

In the future, O'Keefe says, the company could potentially return to bid on the army's follow-on Future Vertical Lift (FVL) programme, which is expected to commence after the JMR-TD prototypes have flown in 2017. "If down the road they say: 'Gee, that's really interesting, we'd like to talk to you about it,' I would say: 'Sure, let's have a discussion,'" he says. However, unless the army had firm requirements in mind, EADS would not be willing to participate in such a programme.

The FVL effort aims to replace the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk series of helicopters after 2030.