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US Army orders Bell to stop work on ARH and come up with new plan

The US Army has told Bell to stop work on the troubled ARH-70 Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) programme and given the company 30 days to come up with a plan to overcome spiralling costs and schedule delays. The ARH is intended to replace the army’s Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior.

The stop-work order was issued yesterday after a special Army Systems Acquisition Review Council meeting on the programme. The army says cost estimates for system development and demonstration (SDD) and low-rate initial production (LRIP) have grown by more than 50%, while the date for the first unit to be equipped has slipped from September 2008 to December 2009.

Bell has been given 30 days “to describe a strategy to maximize contract performance while minimizing the negative cost and schedule impact on the government”, says the army. Bell was awarded a $210 million development contract in July 2004, but the army says the estimate for completion of SDD is now more than $300 million.

The army also has firm fixed-priced options of the first two LRIP lots, and Bell has warned it will lose money on these helicopters. “We are not in negotiation with Bell on the price,” says the army, which originally planned to buy 368 ARHs, but recently increased this to 512 to include the National Guard.

Bell has built four flight-test ARH-70s under the SDD programme, but the third helicopter crashed on its first flight on 21 February after the engine lost power, possibly because of fuel starvation. The helicopters are grounded while the investigation continues.

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