The US Army has slowed the selection process for its 368-aircraft armed reconnaissance helicopter (ARH) order, postponing a final decision by two months until August. The two ARH competitors, Bell Helicopter and Boeing, were asked to submit revised proposals by 5 May, reflecting small changes to aircraft and contract requirements listed early last month.

The move represents an abrupt change of pace for the ARH acquisition effort, which emerged after the demise of the Sikorsky/Boeing RAH-66 Comanche programme last year. The army has since secured $2.3 billion to buy 368 ARHs over the next six years, defined the contract terms and issued a request for proposals. A February deadline yielded two bids – a Bell 407 proposal and a Boeing offer based on the MDHI H-6 Little Bird.

The army's request for revised bids was not expected to attract AgustaWestland and EADS North America, which both opted out of the original solicitation.

The army has adjusted a handful of performance specifications and introduced minor accounting and contract formatting changes, with the revised proposals to be valid through 31 August. The changes do not address widespread industry complaints that the army is driving too hard a bargain, seeking an inexpensive off-the-shelf platform, but demanding costly advanced targeting, networking and self-protection technologies. The average cost per aircraft is $6.4 million.

* The army is signalling new flexibility on a once-strict requirement for 322 light utility helicopters, maintaining the selected aircraft must be certificated under US Federal Aviation Administration rules, but airing questions about crash survivability standards.

Source: Flight International