RIVAL BIDDERS FOR the UK's £2.7 billion attack-helicopter programme are pushing the competition into the political arena, lobbying fiercely over which bid will best strengthen the UK defence industrial base.

Earlier this month, GEC effectively tore up the manufacturing basis of its bid with the Bell Cobra Venom, when chairman Lord Weinstock said that it would allow Westland to assemble it.

Weinstock, addressing a Parliamentary Committee hearing into the future of the UK's aerospace industry, suggested that, should GEC win, then Westland would still benefit, with assembly a distinct possibility.

GEC-Marconi Avionics confirms that this is an "option", although it will not be drawn on the substance of Weinstock's comments. The offer has received a cool response from Westland, which is teamed with McDonnell Douglas in offering the AH-64D Longbow Apache for the Army Air Corps attack-helicopter requirement.

GEC's submission to the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is based on final assembly of the Cobra Venom at its Rochester plant in south-east England.

BAe is also hinting that, if it wins with the Eurocopter Tiger, other UK manufacturers would benefit from subcontracting work, primarily Westland.

GEC and BAe appear to be trying to soothe political concerns that, if Westland emerges empty-handed from the competition, the UK's position in helicopter manufacturing will be in jeopardy.

Westland itself suggests that it is not averse to joining in with future consolidation within the European helicopter sector, but would like to go into negotiations from a position of strength. The success of the EH Industries EH101, built jointly with Agusta, and the attack-helicopter bid are seen as crucial in establishing its position.

The MoD is pressing ahead with the decision process and intends to select and announce a winner between the three remaining competitors before the Parliamentary recess in July.

Source: Flight International