U.S. Army officials today revealed that the Pentagon is in early discussions with several Middle Eastern and Caribbean nations regarding the potential sale of the UH-72 Lakota Light Utility Helicopter.
Col. Neil Thurgood, project manager for the Army's utility helicopters, said that foreign nations will likely want to buy the UH-72 once it receives a host of upgrades allowing aircrews to take FLIR camera videos of ground situations and pass that footage and other data to civilian emergency response agencies under an Army program known as the Security Support Battalion.
"Clearly, if a country wants to buy [an aircraft] with a FLIR systemit makes sense to buy one" already equipped with the sensors, Thurgood said during a press conference touting the EADS' chopper at the Association of the United States Army's annual convention in Washington.
Thurgood, together with John Burke, vice president of the Light Utility Helicopter program for EADS North America, repeatedly highlighted the appeal of using an in-production commercially derived aircraft for both Foreign Military Sales and as a potential OH-58 Kiowa Warrior replacement in the U.S.
"We believe the Armed Aerial Scout is the natural evolution of" the UH-72 program, Burke said, citing the fact that the company is tweaking three UH-72s to "meet the capabilities" it thinks the Army will want to see in a new chopperwhen it eventually decides to replace its decades-old OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters.
While Thurgood wouldn't openly endorse the UH-72 as the service's next scout helo, he did say that, "in an era where every penny is important," the ability of a company to meet the service's requirements on time and on budget, as EADS has done with the Lakota, is critical.
Would the Army look to award a sole source contract to buy a modified version of an existing airframe to quickly replace the aging OH-58s as some suggest the U.S. Air Force wants to do to replace it's UH-1N Huey and HH-60 Pave Hawk fleets? Or, will the ground service simply continue to modify the OH-58 fleet?