US Army cancels troubled Bell reconnaissance helicopter contract

Washington DC
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The US Army contract to develop and build the successor to the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior is again up for grabs.

The Department of Defense terminated Bell Helicopter's three-year-old contract on 16 October to deliver a military variant of the civil 407 helicopter after development costs roughly tripled and the in-service date was delayed four years to 2013.

The cost overruns triggered a so-called Nunn-McCurdy breach, which requires the DoD to recertify that the weapon system is still necessary and no feasible alternatives exist.

"Rather than continue this programme, I have decided that the best course of action is to provide the army with an opportunity to define a coherent, disciplined Kiowa Warrior helicopter replacement programme, and to obtain more rigorous contract terms for its development," says John Young, undersecretary of acquisition, technology and logistics.

bell arh-70a bell
 © US Army

The cancellation creates an opening for Boeing to offer the revived AH-6 armed reconnaissance helicopter (ARH), which was beaten in the original competition. Boeing officially relaunched the AH-6 for export sales at the Association of the US Army convention in early October.

Bell is likely to resubmit the 407's military variant if the army opens the next contract to competitive proposals.

"We are extremely disappointed by this decision and still believe that the ARH-70A is the best replacement for the Kiowa Warrior," Bell says. "The ARH system development and demonstration contract test aircraft have already accumulated over 1,400 flight hours and have accomplished several important programme milestones."

Army officials have already hinted that potential European helicopters would be disqualified unless they can meet a key performance parameter to unload and fly two aircraft from a Lockheed Martin C-130 within 15min.