* Lockheed sees big opportunities in future
* Officials say system would save time and money
* Next-generation helicopter would replace 4,000 aircraft
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON, Aug 5 Lockheed Martin Corp
on Monday said it is developing a universal package of cockpit
equipment, electronics and weapons for the U.S. Army's
next-generation helicopter, an approach it says will save money
and time, and make future upgrades easier.
Lockheed, the Pentagon's No. 1 supplier, is pooling
resources across the company to develop a mission equipment
package for the 4,000 next-generation helicopters that the Army
expects to starting field around 2034 - and other helicopters
operated by the U.S. military and countries around the world.
Traditionally, the U.S. military signs a contract with a
helicopter manufacturer, which then signs agreements with
various subcontractors for electronic equipment, cockpit systems
and weapons. That equipment is then closely tied to the
particular helicopter, which can make later upgrades expensive.
Mounting budget pressures have spurred the military to look
at alternative approaches, including buying mission equipment
separately and then supplying it to the helicopter maker.
Officials are also pushing for more "open architecture" systems
that allow easier upgrades in the future.
The Joint Multirole helicopter program is being closely
watched by Lockheed, Boeing Co and other arms makers,
which are eager for a foothold in one of the few new aircraft
programs on the horizon at a time when U.S. military spending is
Dan Spoor, vice president of aviation systems for Lockheed
Martin's Mission Systems and Training business, told Reuters
that building mission packages separately from the helicopters
would help lower costs by tapping greater economies of scale and
eliminating some costs now added by the aircraft makers.
"Every time a piece of hardware is acquired by an aircraft
provider, there's cost to acquire it, there's cost to put it
into the aircraft, that may have additional handling costs or
fees that they put on it," he said.
Spoor said Lockheed hoped to leverage billions of dollars of
investment already made in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and
other weapons to keep down costs and reduce risk associated with
new development program.
The equipment package would be "platform agnostic" and could
be used on any of the helicopter designs that are being
developed for the new program, he said.
Lockheed is in non-exclusive discussions with the three
companies that are working on aircraft designs to ensure that
they incorporated a sufficient processor "backbone" so the
mission equipment could be integrated later, Spoor said.
Lockheed and other weapons makers have been working with the
Army on 10 small study contracts associated with the equipment
for the new project since 2012. The Army is expected to award
additional contracts for more work this year and next, but
larger funding streams are unlikely for several years.
Spoor said he expected the next-generation helicopter to
survive the budget woes facing the Pentagon given the limited
lifespan of the existing fleet, but said those pressures
underscored the need for more affordable solutions.
The Army in June chose three companies to work on
"technology demonstration" contract to flesh out designs for the
new aircraft - Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron Inc ; a
team comprising Boeing and Sikorsky Aircraft, which is a unit of
United Technologies Corp ; and privately held AVX
That work will lay the groundwork for the Pentagon's Future
Vertical Lift program, a project that will ultimately replace
more than 4,000 medium-lift helicopters used by various military