Armed Scout Helicopter Competition Sees Further Delays
By Valerie Insinna
If the Army decides to hold a competition to replace its aging Kiowa Warrior scout helicopter fleet, the earliest the defense industry could expect to see a request for proposals is the summer of 2014, a senior Army official said Jan. 8.
After the Army asked industry to participate in a series of a voluntary flight demonstrations in 2012, service officials recommended going forward with an armed aerial scout helicopter competition, saidCol. John Lynch, the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command capability manager. However, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Lloyd Austin wants more details on the demonstrations before making a decision, Lynch said. (See story here.)
"We went to the vice chief of staff the week before Christmas, and we got sent back with more homework to do. We were expecting to get a decision from the vice [chief], but we did not,” Lynch told reporters during a briefing ahead of the Association of the United States Army's aviation symposium at National Harbor, Md., this week.
Army acquisition officials are planning to meet with the vice chief again this month. However, a meeting could be delayed if Austin is approved as commander of Central Command.
The Defense Acquisition Board was originally slated to make a decision sometime this spring on whether to hold a competition, according to a 2012 acquisition decision memorandum by Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. However, Lynch said delays will push a decision out until at least this summer. Kendall has set a cost goal of $13 million to $15 million per unit, and some of the aircraft the Army saw in the demonstrations fall into that price range, Lynch said.
"Based on what we looked at in the voluntary flight demonstration, everything … is conventional technology," he said. "Is it better than the technology that we have that we're flying right now? Yes, because it's newer."
Should the Army decide to proceed with a competition, defense contractors said they are ready to step up.
Boeing showed its AH-6 Little Bird during the demonstration, said Mike Burke, director of business development for the company’s attack helicopter division. “We hosted the Army in October in Mesa, [Ariz.], and had a very successful flight evaluation. So we're going to see what happens over the next few months of this year.”
Other companies have their own aircraft ready, including Bell Helicopter’s Block II version of the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior. EADS, Sikorsky and AgustaWestland are also expected to compete.
The Army eventually wants to replace all of its helicopters, including the 40-year-old Kiowa, with a program called Future Vertical Lift. The goal is to start flying the new aircraft by 2030.
However, the Kiowa’s cockpit and sensor upgrade program is only planned to extend the life of the aircraft until 2025, Lynch said. After that, it would need further upgrades until they are fully replaced by Future Vertical Lift aircraft.
"If you look at the calendar of where the Future Vertical Lift aircraft starts coming in [after 2030] … that's probably a 20- or 30-year procurement,” Lynch said. “So you're going to fly the Kiowa Warrior — or whatever scout aircraft we have — until 2060 plus timeframe, probably. So that's a long time to sustain an aircraft."
The Army has tried — and failed — to replace the Kiowa Warrior twice. Because of cost overruns, the RAH-66 Comanche built by Boeing-Sikorsky and Bell Helicopter’s Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter were canceled in 2004 and 2008 respectively.
"We've canceled two scout programs in the last 10 years, so let's make sure we're being very deliberate and we actually get this one right, because it's probably the last chance," Lynch said.
Check this blog Jan. 10-11 for news from the AUSA Army Aviation Symposium.
Photo Credit: Army