Industry Yearns for Scout Helicopter Competition
Sikorsky understands the service’s current budgetary constraints, but company officials believe the Army may change its tune after it sees the S-97 Raider in flight later this year, said Samir Mehta, president of its defense systems and services business.
The Raider was still under development in 2012, when the Army held voluntary flight demonstrations during which Bell Helicopter, Boeing, AgustaWestland and Airbus —then EADS North America — flew aircraft.
“The reason they didn’t go with any of the conventional helicopter offerings was … that none of those offerings provided any kind of game-changing technology,” Mehta told reporters in March. The Raider will be able to fly twice as fast as the Kiowa and will reach higher altitudes in hotter temperatures, he said.
But at a per-unit cost of about $15 million, it seems unlikely that the Army will be able to procure a new fleet of S-97s. Early this year, the service announced its intent to use teams of Apache attack helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles to accomplish reconnaissance missions. The fiscal year 2015 budget proposal would scrap the current initiative to extend the life of the Kiowa Warrior fleet, which was judged by Army aviation leaders to be too expensive.
Mehta maintains that the development of the Raider, which was funded by Sikorsky and other industry partners, will be a good investment even if the Army chooses not to buy the platform. The technology matured through the Raider program could be funneled into the joint multi-role and future vertical lift programs — development and procurement efforts that may result in the purchase of new attack and utility helicopters.
“We’re not concerned about the lack of a customer for this specific product. To be honest with you ... we’d be developing, designing and flying a 10 [thousand] to 11 thousand pound machine as part of our scaling efforts” for the joint multi-role demonstrator and future vertical lift programs, he said. Sikorsky has partnered with Boeing for JMR and has proposed a coaxial design much like the Raider. The Army plans to downselect from four competitors this year but has not determined what number of companies will proceed to the next phase.
Airbus officials also are pining for the service to restart the armed aerial scout competition. The company dropped out of the joint multi-role competition last year and decided to focus on its AAS offering, a version of the UH-72 Lakota.
“We think … that it would be very valuable for the Army to go ahead and run a competition,” said Allan McArtor, chairman and CEO of Airbus Group’s North American unit. “It would cost them … $10 [million] to $12 million maybe to run the competition, but at least that gives them the knowledge base with which they could look over the next decade and understand” whether it’s more affordable to use the Apache for the armed reconnaissance role or to buy a new aircraft.