After OSD told the Army to axe the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter Program last month due to cost overruns and schedule delays, Army operations director Lt. Gen. James Thurman was quick to say that the ARH remains a “critical requirement.”
Now there's proof the Army really wants a new recon bird. It has issued a “sources sought” notice to industry for a re-competition to build up to 512 new helicopters. The Army wants it quickly too; responses must be in by Dec. 4.
The Army cancelled its contract, potentially valued at $6 billion, with Bell-Textron which was building a militarized version of its civilian 407 helicopter to replace the ageing OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. The Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, John Young, said at the time of the cancellation that, “there is at least one alternative” equal to the Bell offering and at less cost. Speculation suggested that was the Boeing AH-6 Little Bird.
Last month, at the Army Association’s annual convention in Washington, D.C., Boeing announced it would begin building new AH-6 light attack/reconnaissance helicopters, based on the Little Bird platform, for the international market. Dave Palm, director of Boeing Rotorcraft Business Development, said, "We believe this system is a perfect fit for those customers seeking long endurance, proven performance and 2,000-pound payload within an affordable helicopter." Today, a Boeing spokesperson said the company "anticipates responding" to the Army request for comments and suggestions.
The Army notice says it is “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 and operate in an Armed Reconnaissance configuration with required range and endurance.”
The Army wants the new aircraft to do the above while carrying up to 2,300 lbs, to include: “Mission Equipment Package (ASE w/ IR suppressor, COM/NAV, cockpit display system, sensor, 7 shot rocket pod & .50 cal gun w/ munitions), crew, ballistic tolerant fuel tank, engine barrier filters and anticipated structural modifications.”
The service wants a helicopter that can operate in desert conditions, which means lots of sand and dust, and more than one must fit into a C-17 or C-5 and be quickly assembled and ready for action upon arrival. The Army also wants to know the maximum production rate with existing facilities, and, “what additional manufacturing capacity that may be required to meet a maximum production rate of 60 aircraft per year to include achievable production ramp up rates.”
And of course the Army wants industry to provide the price tag on all of that as well as the per flight hour operating cost.