IDEX: Bell Courting Middle Eastern Customers for V-22 Osprey

2/21/2011
By Stew Magnuson

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Bell Helicopter has not had a booth here at the IDEX defense trade show in a decade.
The company, part of the Textron group, did not have military aircraft to sell before. But now it is back with one main product to offer: the $67-million-per-copy Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey.
The booth was not busy when National Defense dropped by on the second day of the show. The tilt-rotor aircraft has been approved for foreign military sales for about four years now, but so far there have not been any takers.
Representatives of the company are not discouraged.
Yes, it's a lot of money for one aircraft, said Chuck Gummow, V-22 business development manager at Bell. The message he delivers to potential customers is that they can save money in the long run.
He pulled out a PowerPoint chart showing what it costs to transport a company-size unit 250 nautical miles. The Osprey can move more miles and much faster than a typical medium lift rotary-wing aircraft. That translates into millions of dollars of savings per mission, he said.
A company using a conventional lift rotary-wing aircraft has to set up a forward arming and refueling point about halfway to the mission objective. That means moving supplies, setting up security and moving fuel there. Moving that logistics tail overland exposes troops to enemy fire. An Osprey, he said, can move 24 troops 250 nautical miles at speeds of 316 miles per hour when in the airplane mode.
"Expensive is a relative term," he said. Moving a company 250 miles would cost $524.1 million with a dozen rotary-wing aircraft, but costs $301.2 million with the Osprey.
"You do it at less cost, faster and without putting as many people in harm's way," Gummow said.
The V-22 was available for sale to foreign militaries during the 2007 IDEX show. The difference between now and then is that the Marine Corps has flown it more than 100,000 hours, which is a benchmark in terms of flight safety. The lack of accidents since it has been fielded is one of the first points Gummow makes in his sales pitch.
He admitted that the Osprey has to overcome perceptions that it is not safe. Between 1991 and 2000, Ospreys suffered four crashes, resulting in the loss of 30 lives.
Since then, it has been in nine Marine Corps deployments. Air Force Special Operations Command has used it throughout the world (although its specialized model has not been approved for export).
"You got to look at the capability you get for the cost of the aircraft," he said.
Bell is speaking to potential customers, but Gummow declined to name them.
Yes, times are tough, and military budgets throughout the world are stretched thin. But the price of oil keeps going up and up. Saudi Arabia's current budget was based on the guess that oil would be about $52 per barrel. But right now it is at $85, noted Dane Pranke, sales manager for Middle East and Africa at Bell. That is a big surplus, he said.
"Suddenly $67 million doesn't seem to be such a big hurdle," he added.
Keep watching National Defense Magazine’s blog for daily reports from the 2011 IDEX and NAVDEX exhibitions at Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 21-24.
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Topics: Aviation, Rotary Wing, International

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