October 11, 2011 / 12:05 AM / 6 years ago

US Army wants firms to show off armed helicopters

* Army hopes to stage demonstration in April

* Only flying helicopters to be allowed to participate

By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON, Oct 10 (Reuters) - The U.S. Army, under mounting pressure to generate budget savings, says it will defer work on a broad new multi-role helicopter until around 2030, but still expects to upgrade or replace its workhorse OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters in coming years.

Army Major General Tim Crosby, the Army’s top helicopter buyer, wants to stage a demonstration next April of armed light helicopters that are already available from the industry that could be used to replace the aging Kiowa Warrior.

Crosby said the service was taking an “appetite suppressant” on the bigger project, or Joint Multirole Helicopter, which would include development of new light, medium, heavy and “ultra” sized helicopters.

For next year’s demonstration, he said only companies with existing helicopter could participate; no PowerPoint helicopters were invited.

“You don’t have an airplane; you don’t play,” Crosby told reporters at the annual Association of the U.S. Army conference. “If it doesn’t fly, don’t bother to show up.”

Crosby said the service was seeking approval from top Army and Pentagon leaders to spend up to $8.7 million on the demonstration, which will allow Army leaders to see the offerings from up to five companies.

This is the Army’s third attempt to try to replace the aging OH-58 helicopter built by Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron Inc , a program that is being closely watched by companies hoping to sell their helicopters to the Army.

Boeing Co plans to offer a version of its AH-6 Little Bird, while the U.S. unit of Europe’s EADS has spent tens of millions of dollars to develop three prototypes based on its UH-72 Light Utility Helicopter.

Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp , Bell Helicopter and AVX Aircraft may also compete for the work, which turn out to be one of the few new programs available for helicopter makers in the near term.

The Army cancelled the first contract for an armed reconnaissance helicopter with Bell Helicopter in 2008 after costs rose sharply on that program. It launched a new program, the Armed Aerial Scout, only to reassess that program as well.

Crosby said the demonstration was intended to see if there were any helicopters available now that met most of the requirements for planned upgrades of the OH-58 helicopters with new cockpits and sensors, and at what cost.

Depending on the outcome of the demonstration, the Army could launch a competition for the new aircraft, Crosby said.

He declined to give an specific target for the cost of the new helicopters, saying that the costs would be evaluated -- and weighed against the cost of the upgrades -- once their capabilities were seen.

Congress has questioned why the Army should pay for OH-58 upgrades that could cost nearly as much as new aircraft.

EADS North America Chief Executive Sean O‘Keefe, citing his company’s on-time, on-budget delivery of over 190 light utility helicopters to the U.S. government at a cost of $7 million.

He said the company could modify the helicopter for reconnaissance missions and arm it at a cost comparable to that of the upgrades, which have estimated by some at around $12 million.

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