EADS North America is looking to the US Air Force's 66-aircraft Common Vertical Lift Support Platform (CVLSP) requirement as its next opportunity, after beginning delivery of UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopters (LUH) to the US Army under its first defence prime contract in the USA.
With the CVLSP contest likely to start within two years, EADS is considering whether to offer a variant of the UH-72 based on Eurocopter's EC145 light twin, or a larger helicopter such as NH Industries' NH90. The USAF had planned to use a variant of its CSAR-X combat search-and-rescue helicopter, but the selected Boeing HH-47 Chinook is too large to replace Bell UH-1s in the CVLSP mission.
For the LUH programme, the UH-72A will be assembled at American Eurocopter's plant in Columbus, Mississippi, where the first helicopter was handed over to the US Army on 11 December. The requirement is for 322 aircraft, of which about 200 will go to the National Guard, but the army is already looking at buying additional helicopters, says vice chief of staff Gen Richard Cody.
EAD's deliveries of the UH-72A Lakota to the US Army have begun
EADS delivered the first UH-72A more than two months ahead of schedule despite protests from losing bidders that stalled the contract for 100 days. The first three aircraft will complete a short operational evaluation phase before replacing Sikorsky UH-60s used for medical evacuation duties at US training bases, freeing the Black Hawks for combat support tasks.
EADS has not said whether it will prime a CVLSP bid or team with a US partner, as it has for the USAF/Army Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) and air force KC-X tanker competitions. Raytheon is leading the JCA bid, offering the EADS Casa C-295. A downselect is now planned for May 2007, says Brig Gen Stephen Mundt, army aviation director, after the USAF completes the definition of its mission equipment package for the intra-theatre transport.
The 179-aircraft KC-X competition is expected to kick off in mid-January with the release of the final request for proposals (RFP). EADS and prime Northrop Grumman have welcomed recent changes to the RFP, but are awaiting release of a revised draft this month before deciding whether the changes provide a level playing field for the contest with Boeing. "There is no reason not to believe the USAF will run a fair competition," says EADS co-chief executive Thomas Enders.