Boeing-Sikorsky Team Emerges as Frontrunner After EADS Quits Army Helo Competition
Selected helicopter manufacturers are moving on to the next stage of the Army’s joint multi-role technical demonstrator program. But EADS North America has dropped out in order to concentrate on the uncertain armed aerial scout competition.
The joint multi-role demonstrator program is a precursor to what the Army is calling future vertical lift, a series of next-generation vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that will replace the service’s aging helicopters.
Bell Helicopter, a Boeing-Sikorsky team and a small Fort Worth, Texas-based company called AVX Aircraft have all been chosen to negotiate cost-sharing agreements with the Army to fund demonstrator aircraft.
The Army is expected to award contracts for the technical demonstrator program in September, and companies would conduct flights in 2017.
With EADS out of the running, the Boeing-Sikorsky team has the upper hand, said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis for the Teal Group.
"Unless anyone else can bring a really innovative technology to bear, the advantage is going to Boeing-Sikorsky just for industrial base reasons and because they hold so much of the current mission," he said. Historically, “the Army has never had any interest at all in tiltrotor technology” like Bell’s V-22 Osprey.
EADS North America alerted the Army of the decision to drop out in a May 29 letter from Chief Executive Officer Sean O’Keefe to Assistant Secretary of the Army Heidi Shyu.
“We are faced with fiscal constraints during this period of instability caused by sequestration and budget instability,” O’Keefe said in the letter. “We have painstakingly reviewed our resource needs for both the Army’s prospective Armed Aerial Scout proposal and our proposal submitted for the Future Vertical Lift/Joint Multi Role. We’ve determined that the Army’s most urgent need and our most significant investment to date is for a competitive AAS platform.
“Given this reality, our plan is to focus our resources along with our world class teammates on the AAS competition. As such, we will withdraw from further consideration for the JMR/FVL concept development effort,” he added.
The Army has been contemplating for years whether to replace the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior with a new armed aerial scout helicopter. EADS is proposing the AAS-72X, basically an armed version of the UH-72 Lakota used by the National Guard. The company developed the aircraft with its own funds.
The Army hosted voluntary flight demonstrations in October 2012. EADS, Boeing, AgustaWestland and Bell all flew aircraft, but Army officials recently said none had capabilities that justified the cost of a new program.
EADS is aware of those statements, said a company spokesman. He said budgetary pressures — not the capabilities of the proposed aircraft — have put strain on the armed aerial scout program.
He cited Army officials who told the company its offering had scored high performance and affordability ratings.
“The definition of affordable has changed,” he said.
EADS considered the level of funding the Army was committing to the joint multi-role demonstrator and concluded that it would be unwise to take on the investment without certainty that it would lead to a contract, the official said.
EADS, however, does not rule out future participation in a vertical lift aircraft program, the source added.
The company was expected to propose a design based on Eurocopter’s X3 demonstrator. The X3, a compound helicopter with a five-bladed top rotor and two short wings fitted with propellers, broke the unofficial speed records for vertical takeoff and landing aircraft on June 7, shortly after EADS pulled out of the joint multi-role competition. It flew 255 knots in level flight and 263 while descending, according to a news release.
Up until that point, Sikorsky’s X2 held those speed records, with a 250-knot level flight. The Sikorsky-Boeing team is using the X2 as the basis for its proposal.
Bell Helicopter will offer the V-280 Valor, a tiltrotor aircraft that will be able to fly at 280 knots. Its first flight is scheduled for 2017.
AVX’s demonstrator will have coaxial rotors and twin ducted fans. It will have doors on each side of the fuselage and a large cargo ramp, according to the company.