Two Industry Teams Progress in U.S. Army Helicopter Contest

WSJ – The U.S. Army has selected two industry teams for an unusual contest to develop a new type of military helicopter.

The Bell unit of Textron Co. in partnership with Lockheed Martin Corp., and the team of Boeing Co. and Sikorsky Aircraft Co. said Tuesday that they had been picked to each build a helicopter that flies much faster and farther than existing models. The Joint Multi-Role, or JMR, program is part of a broader effort to eventually replace hundreds of workhorse Black Hawk and Apache models.

Analysts view the contest as a test of the Pentagon’s ongoing reforms of the way it develops and buys new weapon systems. Officials are trying to avoid the problems of past programs dogged by huge cost overruns and advanced technology that proved too complicated and expensive to actually field with the military.

The Army plans to use the two prototypes as part of its evaluation of a wider helicopter replacement program known as Future Vertical Lift that the Pentagon estimates could cost $100 billion.

The long-term plan wouldn’t lead to new helicopters becoming operational before the mid-2030s, and the defense department could still decide the broader project is too complex or costly and opt to upgrade existing rotorcraft with technology harvested from the JMR program.

The four companies are already the Pentagon’s main suppliers of rotorcraft and onboard equipment. Sikorsky, a unit of United Technologies Corp., builds Black Hawks and the larger CH-53, while Boeing makes Apaches and Chinooks, as well the distinctive tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey in partnership with Bell.

The quartet was selected ahead of two closely held companies—AVX Aircraft Co. and Karem Aircraft Inc.—to build a demonstrator, though the service may continue funding both.

Army officials have said that technologies from all of the original bidders could be used in the final design if it opts for an all-new helicopter, or could even open the contest to include other manufacturers such as Airbus Group NV, the world’s largest rotorcraft maker by revenue.

Most military helicopters are based on designs dating from the 1970s and 1980s, but advances in engine and other technologies have ushered in a new generation of faster and more durable civilian rotorcraft, driven in part by booming demand from the energy industry searching for oil and gas ever-further offshore.

Sikorsky and Boeing are offering their Defiant design, which uses a conventional rotor with a pusher propeller to boost speed. Bell’s V-280 Valor builds on the tilt-rotor technology used on the Osprey. The rotors can move from their conventional position for takeoff and landing to act as propellers for forward flight.

An AVX spokesman said it is in talks with the Army to secure funding to continue development work, though confirmed it hadn’t been selected to build a demonstrator. Karem didn’t respond to a request for comment. An Army spokesman declined to comment on the selection process.

Written by Doug Cameron
Posted on August 12, 2014
Wall Street Journal | Two Industry Teams Progress in U.S. Army Helicopter Contest

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