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AgustaWestland Pitches VH-71 Compromise

This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

Stung by criticism in Washington over the VH-71 presidential helicopter program that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to scrap and reassess, AgustaWestland is firing back and arguing, essentially, that there is no reason to start all over.

Rather than junking the Increment 1 helos, which the Pentagon says only have 5-10 years of useful life and are therefore not worth fielding, AgustaWestland argues that the rotorcraft, with some certification activities, can be validated for at least 10,000 hours of useful life, not the 1,500 specified by the Navy. The baseline AW101 aircraft is already certified for that flight time.

Moreover, with about $3.3 billion already sunk into the program, AgustaWestland argues it can deliver 19 more Increment 1 variants for another $3.5 billion.

The total would roughly equal the original VH-71 program budget before costs more than doubled as requirements grew and the program raced ahead.

The helo maker further is floating the idea of building an upgraded version, a so-called Increment 1.5, which would be close to meeting the full program requirements but below the $13 billion price tag the program has now reached.

Meanwhile, AgustaWestland has delivered the fifth pilot-production VH-71 from its Yeovil, U.K., production facility.

Chief Executive Officer Giuseppe Orsi says that while program costs have doubled, the helicopter's portion is only a comparatively modest 8 percent over plan and six months behind schedule, which he attributes to 50 major and 800 other design changes.

AgustaWestland on April 28 finished delivery of Increment 1, with the last of nine VH-71s now bound for completion with integrator Lockheed Martin.

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-- Christian

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