It appears that Italian helicopter maker AgustaWestland is the first stop on the U.S. Army’s summer tour of potential competitors for the nascent Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) competition.
Paul Elliott, the company’s vice president for Army business development, said that Army officials arrived at the company’s facilities June 25 in Philadelphia and are being shown a technology demonstrator the company has constructed. The demonstrator showcases the capabilities AgustaWestland plans to offer if the Army pursues the AAS helicopter program, instead of recapitalizing the Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior fleet.
The technology demonstrator is the AW139M, a variant of the AW139 helicopter flown by military and law enforcement customers around the world.
Elliott said the company plans to submit a new AW169 aircraft to the Army. But since the helicopter only had its first flight test in May at the company’s Cascina Costa plant in Italy (AgustaWestland is a Finmeccanica company), it is instead using the technology demonstrator for flight tests this week.
When the Army released a request for information for the program in 2010, the company had planned to bid a variant of its AW119 helicopter. But Elliott said, “We chose to update our response by presenting our 169 that’s part of the common design family of helicopters that leverages the technologies and work that we’ve done on the 139, but the 169 is smaller-scale version of the 139.”
The Army released an updated request for information on April 24, asking industry to offer potential alternatives to upgrading the workhorse Kiowa fleet, which is plagued by numerous capability gaps that Army officials outlined at industry days on May 23 and May 24.
Chief among them are “limited lift and maneuvering capability,” a lack of weapon load carrying capacity, lack of multinational interoperability, and the inability to rapidly adjust to mission task changes, according to briefing slides presented at the industry day.
The Army is really “looking at the art of the possible” in its site visits, Elliott said.
The Army also is looking at an average procurement unit cost of $13 million to $15 million for a new AAS.
Speaking in January at an Army aviation summit hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army, Lt. Gen. Robert Lennox, deputy chief of staff of the Army, said that upgrades to the Kiowa fleet — with an eye toward fielding the first modernized unit in fiscal 2016 — would cost $2.98 billion to $4.1 billion. But developing a new AAS program with a fielding target of 2022 would cost from $4.8 billion to $12.1 billion, contingent on requirements.
In addition to AgustaWestland, Boeing plans to show its AH-6 helicopter, EADS International will demonstrate a variant of its Lakota light utility helicopter, Kiowa maker Bell Helicopter is preparing a submission, and Sikorsky will submit its S-97 Raider.
Sikorsky carted a mock-up of its Raider as well as its X2 technology demonstrator to Capitol Hill on June 20, parking the helos within walking distance of the Capitol building in order to better explain to members of Congress the capabilities the company is offering.
Steve Engebretson, the director of the company’s AAS program, said that while the Raider hasn’t flown yet, the company is building two prototypes in 2013 and plans to begin flying them in 2014. He added that while the Army wants the new helos to be able to fly at 6,000 feet and at temperatures of 95 degrees, Sikorsky has demonstrated that its technology demonstrator can do 10,000 feet at that temperature, and has reached speeds of 240 knots. The company plans to conduct wind tunnel tests in July.
The Army will assess AAS capabilities in November and December, followed by a Defense Acquisition Board review in December. The decision on whether to upgrade the Kiowa or begin a new aircraft program is expected next year. Interested vendors have until July 2 to submit proposals.