Need for speedy service entry could see a Sikorsky order placed without contest

Australia could sole-source its requirement for 12 extra troop lift helicopters to Sikorsky as a means of introducing the aircraft into operational service as soon as possible. Final decisions on the project's future are to be made shortly.

Australian defence minister Robert Hill says the preferred way ahead for the requirement, designated Air 9000 Phase 2, is to continue with an open competition, but requirements for early delivery have necessitated a rapid review of all options.

Sikorsky plans to team with Boeing Australia, while Eurocopter is preparing a proposal to supply NH90s taken from existing orders in a bid to stay in the competition.

Eurocopter is using the same approach in Spain's attack-helicopter programme, offering aircraft from Germany's Tiger order. Eurocopter deputy chairman Fabrice Bregier says the company is "ready within the frame of a competition to see how we could apply the same kind of scheme" for the Australian requirement. Bregier says Eurocopter is awaiting confirmation from the Australian Department of Defence on its preferred way forward.

Hill says: "We have said the purchase will be accelerated. We are doing a study to determine what acceleration we can accommodate in terms of training of pilots, logistics support and the like. Basically, it will be driven by those force needs and capability issues."

The Air 9000 Phase Two competition was geared towards a 2007 service entry, but Hill says: "The target in-service date would be as soon as possible, and that is why we are awaiting further advice on what target could be accommodated.

"We still see benefits in competition. Within our strategic demand, if there is room for a competitive process, then that would be our preference," says Hill.


Source: Flight International