Eurocopter believes the US Army's requirement to replace or upgrade its fleet of ageing Bell OH-58 Kiowa Warriors is the "largest military opportunity in the coming years", amid a global defence market that will remain "slow" for the foreseeable future.
The company is pitching its AAS72X+, a military version of its EC145 T2, for the prospective Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) contest, but will face rival proposals from incumbent Bell, along with others from Sikorsky, Boeing and MD Helicopters.
However, Lutz Bertling, Eurocopter chief executive, says its fiercest competition will come from a proposed upgrade of the existing fleet - the US Army's default position.
Speaking at a Paris media briefing on 24 January 2013, Bertling said: "We are ready to provide a solution now which can replace an aircraft which has been in service with the US Army since the Vietnam era.
"It would not be significantly more expensive than upgrading the Kiowa. It will offer the best balance of capability, affordability and growth potential."
Eurocopter is teaming with Lockheed Martin, which will provide the mission system for the type. Bertling anticipates the US Army will issue a request for proposals in late 2013 or early 2014.
The company is banking on the success of its UH-72A Lakota programme for the US Army and Navy helping swing the contest in its favour. It has so far delivered more than 250 aircraft from an order for 309 of the type from its Columbus, Mississippi facility to the services. It would use same site to produce the AAS72X+ if selected, says Bertling.
The AAS contest would represent a rare bright spot in an otherwise flat market for military rotorcraft. Bertling says: "There are some competitions here and there, but compared to what we saw before the financial crisis bookings are relatively slow."
Only 31% of the 469 net orders Eurocopter booked in 2012 were for military types, and several existing contracts - such as for NH Industries NH90s and Tiger attack helicopters - are threatened with cancellation or reduction by customers.
Nevertheless, progress on improvements to the Tiger continue. Eurocopter will shortly deliver the first enhanced HAD variant to the French army, and plans to hand over a further four Tigers to the German army in the uprated Afghanistan Stabilisation German Army Rapid Deployment configuration in February and March.