Companies forming alliance to meet US Army's post-Comanche reconnaissance need
Boeing and Sikorsky are in the formative stages of building a new alliance to compete for the US Army Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) programme, potentially recreating the team behind the cancelled RAH-66 Comanche.
Both have submitted offers to buy a share of MD Helicopters (MDHI), the Dutch-owned manufacturer of the AH-6 Little Bird, widely considered the favoured choice for ARH.
The ARH programme was created after the Comanche's collapse in February, becoming one of the principal beneficiaries of a $14.6 billion funding stream created by the RAH-66 termination.
"We're both working very hard to work with [MDHI]," says a Boeing executive.
A Boeing-Sikorsky ARH team would fuel an already intense, multinational competition for the contract. Bell Helicopter is submitting an offer based on a new version of the Model 407 commercial helicopter. Eurocopter is challenging with the AS550 and EC635, while AgustaWestland is considering four rotorcraft - A109 Power, A119 Koala, A129 and AB139.
The competitive field is taking shape as the army solicits industry feedback on a draft requirements document issued last month. Although most airframe primes publicly support the army's approach, many second-tier suppliers are privately questioning the feasibility of the ARH requirements.
Their concerns are largely focused on the mission system requirements. ARH is intended to be a non-developmental aircraft programme, allowing the army to issue a request for proposal in November and start fielding the aircraft within three years.
Draft requirements for the target acquisition sensor suite, which calls for an infrared imager, low-light colour television, laser rangefinder/ designator, laser spot tracker and laser pointer, are of particular concern. Some industry sources say only one system - the Raytheon ZSQ-2, ordered by the US Special Operations Command - includes all those features, but that is months away from full-scale production.
The army is open to scaling back some requirements for the 368-aircraft ARH fleet, as it seeks tobalance mission system requirements with a budget of less than $6 million per aircraft. Lt Col Neil Thurgood, ARH product manager, says the army will consider performance trades for non-critical requirements.
STEPHEN TRIMBLE / WASHINGTON DC
Source: Flight International