KAREN WALKER / ORLANDO Government organisation will instead benefit as cost overruns and delays hit supplier

The US Navy is thought to be on the verge of a controversial decision to buy two prototype flight simulators for the Sikorsky MH-60R multi-mission helicopter from a government organisation rather than traditional supplier and MH-60 prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin has previously supplied the navy with flight trainers for the SH-60B, SH60R and SH-60S variants. The company had expected also to be sole-source supplier for the R - or Romeo - variant trainer. It is understood, however, that this contract, initially for two prototype machines, will be awarded in early 2003 to Manned Flight Simulator (MFS), a government-owned organisation in Maryland.

Although the Lockheed Martin MH-60S simulator so far accepted is now fully operational and functioning well, the programme has been plagued by cost overruns and delays caused by technological hurdles, particularly with the sophisticated visual system. Evans & Sutherland (E&S) provided its Harmony 1 image generator as a subcontractor to Lockheed Martin.

Maryland-based training specialist JF Taylor, a company that has worked closely with MFS for 15 years, will be lead contractor for the prototype trainers. A JF Taylor official at the show said that the contract for the production trainers will be opened to competitive tender. "Navair wants to open up the playing field," he said.

E&S, meanwhile, confirms it will "compete aggressively" to provide the visuals for the MH-60R with its new Harmony 2 system. Richard Morrow E&S director government requirements says there were "technology challenges" experienced on earlier MH-60 simulators, but says those issues were "worked through". He adds: "The navy took into account the delays and decided a different approach was in their interests."

Lockheed Martin is neither confirming nor denying the navy's new strategy, but says: "It is ultimately the customer's decision on how to proceed," adding that it "stands ready to support our customers any way we can".

It is believed that Lockheed Martin is in talks with MFS about possibly selling some of its MH-60 trainer technology and equipment in a effort to recoup some of its investment on the programme and help the navy achieve a common architecture across all trainers, including the R variant.



Source: Flight International