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Boeing revives AH-6 as US Army weighs ARH alternatives

Boeing's losing proposal for the US Army's armed reconnaissance helicopter contract has been revived for the export market, even as army officials acknowledge searching for alternatives to Bell Helicopter's troubled ARH-70.

The army selected the Bell 407 over Boeing's AH-6 in 2004, rejecting the latter over concerns about Boeing's ability to meet annual production targets. Instead, the commercially based Bell offering has faced substantial schedule delays and cost overruns. The army is waiting for John Young, head of arms acquisition for the Department of Defense, to decide whether to recertificate Bell or reopen the contract for a possible competition.

Meanwhile, army acquisition officials say that there is already an internal effort under way to consider alternatives to Bell. The review has remained within the army and possible industry bidders have not yet been contacted.

 © US Army

Army aviation acquisition chief Paul Bogosian, speaking to Flight International on the sidelines of the Association of the US Army convention in Washington DC, indicated that European aircraft designs are unlikely to be eligible if the ARH competition is reopened.

AgustaWestland and Eurocopter were disqualified from the original competition because their aircraft failed to meet a key army requirement to offload two aircraft from a Lockheed Martin C-130 transport and be ready for take-off within 15min.

Bogosian says that key performance parameters would not be waived or amended if an ARH competition is reopened.

Boeing is offering to international customers the six-bladed AH-6 with an export-approved, L-3 Wescam MX-15 electro-optical/infrared sensor with a laser tracker, says director of business development Mike Burke. The company believes there is a potential market for hundreds of export examples. Boeing believes the same airframe could be modified with a new sensor and meet the army's requirements for the ARH contract.

Burke says the army's original concerns about Boeing's ability to meet AH-6 production demands have been addressed. MDHI, a key airframe supplier, has resolved crippling supply chain problems since 2005 and now produces 50 aircraft a month. The AH-6 assembly line at Boeing's facility in Mesa, Arizona is sized to produce between five and 15 aircraft a month.

Boeing expects to launch the AH-6 on the international market in early 2009 with a new order for 18-24 aircraft.

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