Trio will offer helicopter for president's transport

AgustaWestland and Lockheed Martin this week are expected to announce a tie-up with Bell as the US manufacturing partner for the US101, which will compete with the Sikorsky VH-92 for the US Marine Corps' VXX requirement for a VVIP US presidential transport helicopter.

Adding Bell will complete the US101 team line-up, which will be led locally by systems integrator and prime contractor Lockheed Martin. A US manufacturer will help AgustaWestland increase local content from 30% for the EH101 to 65% for an initial Block One US101 offering, with the eventual goal of reaching 75%, sources say.

AgustaWestland and Lockheed Martin have been seeking a manufacturing partner for more than a year, during which they also held discussions with Boeing and Kaman Aerospace. Reaching a deal has been made more urgent by the US government wanting to accelerate replacement of the Sikorsky VH-3D from2014 to 2007.

To meet this new schedule a type needs to be selected and a contract awarded by early next year, say industry officials. Initial VXX funding has been made available in the fiscal year 2004 defence budget beginning in October. The requirement is for 11 helicopters, but the political endorsement of being the next presidential transport and a larger US Air Force requirement for a similar size combat search-and-rescue helicopter is making for an intense competition.

An operational requirements document is expected to be released next month, along with completion of an analysis of alternatives, which is expected to lead to the release of a request for proposals to a limited number of prequalified bidders. AgustaWestland and Lockheed Martin plan to demonstrate a UK Royal Air Force Merlin HC3 in the Washington DC area this week, at the same time that Sikorsky is showing its S-92civil version.

Source: Flight International