Eurocopter: Kiowa Upgrade Biggest Rival for AAS

This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

PARIS -- European Helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter says it believes that Bell’s Kiowa Warrior upgrade program is the only real competition for the U.S. Army’s Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) contest.

The Army is weighing the merits of a new AAS competition against another upgrade of the venerable Kiowa, which AAS would replace. The company’s rivals for AAS are AgustaWestland with the AW169, Boeing with the AH-6i, MD Helicopters with the MD 540F and Sikorsky with the S-97 Raider.

Eurocopter is highly confident that its AAS-72X family of helicopters -- based on the UH-72 Lakota Light Utility Helicopter -- will prevail in any scout helicopter competition the Army decides to undertake. The company also believes that a request for proposals could be released by the end of the year.

Speaking in Paris at Eurocopter’s annual press conference Jan. 24, CEO Lutz Bertling told journalists that choosing the AAS-72 would not cost the Department of Defense “millions of extra dollars” in development. The company believes that its experience of providing 450 UH-72s, including the introduction of the Lakota into U.S. Army operations, has given Eurocopter and EADS North America a strong platform from which to bid.

Bertling also acknowledged the pairing of Sikorsky and Boeing in the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) Technology Demonstrator (TD) program, but doubted that the deal between the two companies would lead to any kind of consolidation, as suggested by some commentators. He said it was likely that Boeing would probably also continue its relationship with Bell to develop a tiltrotor.

Meanwhile, the highly complex Tiger attack helicopter and NH90 utility helicopter programs in Europe are being dogged by the push for austerity in defense ministries across the continent.

Eurocopter is talking to Spanish officials about Madrid’s plans to reduce the number of NH90s the Spanish armed forces plan to buy. Spain currently has 45 NH90s on order, but wants to cut that number to 38. So Eurocopter is offering an option to reduce the number of helicopters and buy into a spares and support package worth the same value as the seven helicopters. Neighboring Portugal wants to cancel its entire buy of 10 NH90s, as part of deep cuts being made in government spending. Lisbon has informed the NATO Helicopter Management Agency (NAHEMA), the NATO agency representing countries in their purchase of the NH90, of its intentions. But Portugal may have to pay as much as 20-30% of the contract cost in cancellation fees.

Discussions are also taking place with the German government about its planned reduction in the buy of Tigers and NH90s. Germany still has a requirement for a new naval helicopter to replace the country’s navy Sea Kings and Lynx helicopters. Part of the discussion is understood to include the option of offsetting the cuts and meeting the naval requirement by supplying the NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH) version of the NH90.

The NH90, which is produced by NHIndustries, a joint venture of Eurocopter, AgustaWestland and Fokker, is also being promoted for more exports. Recent offers have been made to Qatar and to meet Norway’s All Weather Search and Rescue Helicopter requirement being conducted by the Norwegian Ministry of the Interior.

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