Possible collaboration comes amid V-22 tiltrotor axe fears

Boeing is negotiating a co-operative tie-up with EADS to promote the NH90 for selected US military rotary-wing requirements in return for assistance in selling the CH-47 Chinook heavylift machine in Europe. The move comes amid renewed concern that the Bell Boeing V-22 tiltrotor could be axed by a Department of Defense senior leadership that remains sceptical about the programme's future.

According to sources, EADS was understood to have been ready to announce a memorandum of understanding at last month's Farnborough air show, but a reorganisation of Boeing's former Military Aircraft and Missile Systems division forced a delay while new executives are briefed. EADS US president Greg Bradford says: "It is way too premature to discuss it [the deal] and nothing has been finalised."

Boeing's interest is in offering the NH90 for a number of emerging requirements for which it would otherwise not compete. This includes the US Air Force need for a new medium-size machine to replace its combat search-and-rescue Sikorsky MH-60G Pave Hawks and possibly the US Marine Corp's VH-3D presidential VVIP machine. Rival EH Industries has already teamed with Lockheed Martin to compete with the US101 for similar programmes (Flight International, 6-12 August).

In return, EADS is being asked by Boeing to help locally market the CH-47. In the past France has expressed interest in an enlarged version of the Chinook heavylift helicopter, while German Army Aviation has a long-term requirement to replace its large fleet of Sikorsky CH-53G transport machines.

Talk of a tie-up with EADS coincides with growing disquiet within the V-22 programme office and industry about recent comments by senior Pentagon officials. DoD Undersecretary of Defense, acquisition, logistics and technology, Pete Aldridge, has given the programme a year to prove itself safe and reliable. The helicopter only recently returned to flight after an 18-month grounding.

A successful return to flight and completion of a restructured developmental test programme alone might not be enough to save the programme, with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld adding that cost would be a key consideration. With the MV-22 projected to cost $70 million a copy, and the USMC requiring as many as 360 and the USAF another 50 CV-22s for its Special Operations Command, industry sources acknowledge cost could be the tiltrotor's undoing.

Source: Flight International