Sikorsky officials remain committed to the company's high-speed S-97 Raider demonstrator despite a likely US Army move to at least postpone a decision to launch an armed aerial scout (AAS) programme.
Sikorsky has signed up more than 20 industrial teammates since launching the coaxial rotor, compound rotorcraft, which is capable of speeds above 200kt (370km/h), in October. The company has committed to build two prototypes for a flight demonstration starting in 2014.
However, army officials have emphasised that no funding for the AAS programme will be included in its 2012 budget.
Brig Gen William Crosby, programme executive officer for army aviation, says funding a new-start programme within the next two years is unlikely. That decision remains true, says Crosby, even if an ongoing analysis of alternatives recommends replacing the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior with a new airframe for the manned helicopter part of the AAS requirement.
Sikorsky officials have been wary of tying the S-97 too closely to the fate of the AAS programme. The company believes it remains viable even if the AAS programme does not materialise.
Nevertheless, Sikorsky officials now express confidence that the S-97 will be a top contender for the army's next scout helicopter. First flight of the S-97, in 2014, is timed to coincide with when Sikorsky believes the army will be ready to launch the AAS programme, says Doug Shidler, director of Sikorsky's light tactical helicopter programme.
The S-97 also could be offered to US Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Brig Gen Kevin Mangum, incoming commander for army aviation special operations, says the Boeing MH-6M Little Bird may soon need a replacement, adding: "We have about maxed out the H-6 from a capabilities standpoint."
Sikorsky believes the AAS programme will play a key role in the MH-6 replacement. Unlike the army, SOCOM does not traditionally introduce all-new aircraft, preferring to buy helicopters already in service.