Surprise bid could involve Chinese or Russian airframes

Boeing has made a surprise, late entry into a competition to sell fixed-wing transports to the US Army, but like its rivals must seek out an available airframe designed by a foreign supplier. Boeing responded to a request for information on the army's Future Cargo Aircraft (FCA) programme, nominally worth $1.3-1.6 billion, to deliver 33 transports through to fiscal year 2011.

The company is in the process of selecting an airframe, tackling a problem already addressed by two other FCA candidates. The EADS Casa CN-235 and C-295 are being offered by prime contractor Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems under a new teaming arrangement. Raytheon will also act as systems integrator and provide mission support for the European aircraft. The L-3 Integrated Systems and Alenia North America joint venture Global Military Aircraft Systems (GMAS) is proposing the C-27J Spartan, with Honeywell, Lockheed Martin and Rolls-Royce as team-mates.

Boeing's options for a vehicle may be narrowed to Russian and Chinese aircraft, with one contender believed to be Xian Aircraft's Y-7 – a Chinese-built derivative of Antonov's An-24. The Y-7 is certificated by the US Federal Aviation Administration, according to the army's requirements for FCA, and a variant is available with a rear cargo ramp. Boeing says it is keeping its options open for an airframe, and is not yet committed to stay in the programme through the competitive bidding phase.

Both teams with selected airframes have launched extended demonstration tours of army bases across the USA. GMAS last week launched a three-week promotion tour with a prototype C-27J, which will return to Europe to take part in next month's Paris air show before heading back to the USA in July for extended demonstrations.

But it is clear the competition may depend less on demonstrating aircraft performance than on meeting price and sustainment goals. The army has budgeted for $33.8 million per aircraft. Logistics costs are also expected to be a major factor in the competition, with L-3 and Raytheon both stressing the significance of their relationships with the army maintenance community.

A platform selection is expected during FY07, with the army hoping to later expand its FCA purchase to more than 125 aircraft.



Source: Flight International