US Army ARH request draws wide interest from helicopter industry

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US- and European-based helicopter makers are taking new interest in a revived armed reconnaissance helicopter contract after a US Army decision to reassess its performance requirements.

AgustaWestland, Boeing, EADS North America and Sikorsky say they will respond to an army "sources sought" notice, which aims to inform the service's requirements-setting process with available technologies.

Among the likely bidders, only Bell Helicopter declined to commit to a response. The army on 16 October terminated the company's $6 billion contract to build 512 ARH-70s (below), due to a tripling of aircraft acquisition costs.

 
© Bell Helicopter

"We are currently evaluating the army's solicitation," says Bell. "Once our evaluation is complete we will make a decision on a response."

Sikorsky confirms: "We will be presenting both short- and long-term solutions," but declines to identify potential candidates. However, these could potentially include military developments of the Schweizer 330 or its high-speed X2 coaxial rotorcraft.

The original ARH competition pitted only two aircraft - Bell's 407 and Boeing's OH-6 Little Bird. Two other likely bidders - AgustaWestland and Eurocopter - were disqualified from the competition because of a single key performance parameter for deployability, as neither contractor could fit two helicopters in a Lockheed Martin C-130 and have them ready to fly again 15min after unloading.

The requirement is central to the army's concept of fielding a highly mobile expeditionary force. Paul Bogosian, who is retiring by year-end as head of acquisition for army aviation, re-affirmed the requirement during an interview in October.

However, unless the army's ongoing requirement assessment eases the deployability standard, the army may have only a single bidder - Boeing - interested and eligible for the contract.

In 2004, AgustaWestland was considering the A109, A119, A129 and the then-AB139, while Eurocopter considered offering the AS550 or EC635. Since 2004, an EADS proposal based on the EC145 has captured the army's light utility helicopter contract. Last May, EADS North America chief executive Ralph Crosby proposed offering an armed version of the UH-72 LUH (below) to the army.

 
© EADS North America

Sources say the army plans to propose a new acquisition strategy for ARH re-competition in January, with this to require approval from the joint requirements oversight council.

The army also must decide whether it wants a single- or twin-engine helicopter for ARH.

The only required capability specified in the sources sought document is for a helicopter that can perform a hover out of ground effect at 6,000ft (1,830m) and at 35°C (95°F) temperatures.