MoD mutes critics by offering to allow foreign bids for more lucrative contract
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has avoided a backlash over its decision last month to strike a non-competitive deal with AgustaWestland for potentially dozens of Future Lynx helicopters (Flight International, 29 March – 4 April), despite warnings by foreign political and industrial interests.
The MoD has effectively silenced potential industry critics by packaging the decision with a promise to allow foreign bidders to compete for a more lucrative order for up to 70 medium-lift transport helicopters to replace ageing Pumas.
That order is also prized by the AgustaWestland EH101 team, which is seeking to leverage the deal to make further enhancements to the design for potential exports. EADS is expected to offer the NH90, and says only that it welcomes the chance to compete for the medium transport order. EADS is not disputing the new preferred-bidder status of the Future Lynx, despite having pressed the MoD to consider a rival bid based on the EC635. In the USA, there is still an effort by Sikorsky backers in Congress to overturn the award on 28 January of the VXX presidential helicopter contract to the Lockheed Martin/AgustaWestland/Bell Helicopter US101 team.
Only a few weeks ago, Sikorsky President Steven Finger warned that rotorcraft competitions in Italy and the UK would receive special attention from the US manufacturer. "We will watch with interest the results of the European Union activity with the Italian government and the direction the UK takes in their future defence orders," Finger said in February.
However, there has been no effort by industry or politicians to capitalise on the MoD's move away from competitive bidding. With Sikorsky planning to offer the updated CH-53 HLR and Boeing planning to propose a future variant of the CH-47 for the medium transport requirement, there may be less desire to create trouble until the next contest is decided.
The MoD's decision on Future Lynx also clears the sale of Westland to Finmeccanica at the original price. Finmeccanica would have been allowed a discount if the Future Lynx was not selected.
STEPHEN TRIMBLE/WASHINGTON DC