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Army Searching for New Skids

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Our colleague Greg Grant was also at last week's AUSA Air Warfare Symposium and reported an interesting update on how the Army is picking up the pieces of the cancelled Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter.

The requirements have changed a bit since the ARH's demise, adding 2,000 feet to the "high-hot" hover requirement...a change intended to, and evidently, giving manufacturers fits.

Late last year when the Army issued a sources sought notice to industry for a re-competition of the ARH program, after cancelling its contract with Bell-Textron for a militarized version of its civilian 407 helicopter to replace the ageing OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, the service said it was reassessing the ARH performance requirements. Specifically: the new helicopter must have the capability to perform a Hover out of Ground Effect (HOGE) at 6,000 ft/95 degrees Fahrenheit. At standard temperature, thats almost equivalent to flying at 14,000 feet, said Larry Plaster, Boeings Apache Modernization manager.

The Kiowa Warrior couldnt meet the 4,000 foot requirement unless almost everything but the seats were pulled off the airframe. For high-hot attack and reconnaissance missions, which means pretty much everywhere in Afghanistan, the Army uses the AH-64 Apache. Plaster said the Block III Apache upgrade will carry composite rotor blades to improve high-hot performance. The powerful, twin-engined CH-47 Chinook cargo hauler has little trouble operating in the rarified air and high temperatures of the Hindu Kush mountain range.

As for existing helicopters that might fit the Armys new ARH high-hot requirement, there are aircraft out there that can do it, said Col. Randolph Rotte, Deputy Director for Aviation in the Army Chief of Staffs office, speaking at the Armys Aviation Symposium here in the DC area this week.

Because of that altitude and temperature that is pushing todays current technology to the extreme limits. Big [helicopters] works there in those environments well, but to get it smaller to meet the needs of the manned light reconnaissance, thats a challenge. So only those with some technological edges to it can attain that in the time frames without creating another Comanche program again which we dont want to do with 10 to 15 years of R and D, Rotte said.

Army officials refused to specify which companies responded to the November RFI, but sources confirm that at least two European players could enter the fray. One could be the Augusta-Westland A119 Ke or the A109 Power. Also, our source tells us, Eurocopter could bid the E130 or E135.

We'll see how seriously the Army takes a Euro bid on the newly revamped program. Suffice it to say they're probably gun shy after the tanker controversy.

-- Christian

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