Contractors Await U.S. Army’s Armed Scout Evaluation

 - April 6, 2012, 10:37 AM
EADS North America executives unveil the AAS-72X+ at the AAAA forum and exposition April 2 in Nashville. (Photo: Bill Carey)

A highly anticipated opportunity for contractors to demonstrate their helicopters for the U.S. Army’s armed aerial scout (AAS) requirement, originally planned for this spring, has been postponed until this summer or fall as the Army contemplates improving or replacing the aging OH-58D Kiowa Warrior in the manned reconnaissance role.

The AAS program is the Army’s third attempt to develop a new armed scout helicopter since cancellation of the Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche in 2004 and Bell Helicopter ARH-70 Arapaho in 2008. The service has said that in the current defense budget environment it cannot afford a new-build helicopter to replace the Kiowa Warrior, so it will instead buy a commercial off-the-shelf solution in the near term and focus research and development resources on the 2030 vision of a Future Vertical Lift (FVL) capability.

For the AAS, the Army seeks a helicopter with “high-hot” capability to hover at 6,000 feet above sea level at 95 degrees F, an operational range of 550 kilometers (342 miles) and 135 knots airspeed. The requirement has drawn proposals from several contenders, among them Bell Helicopter with the OH-58 Block II; Boeing with the AH-6i; AgustaWestland with the AW119 or AW109; and possibly Sikorsky Aircraft with the developmental S-97 Raider.

Two further proposals surfaced this week at the 2012 Army Aviation Association of America (AAAA) forum in Nashville: the MD 540F from MD Helicopters and the AAS-72X+, an armed version of the Army’s AH-72A Lakota light utility helicopter from EADS North America. The main difference between the latter helicopter and EADS’s other Lakota derivative is its fenestron, or shrouded tail rotor design. “We’re prepared to offer one or the other or both, depending on the Army’s final requirements,” said David Haines, EADS North America vice president of rotorcraft programs.

The Army, meanwhile, continues to fund the OH-58F cockpit and sensor upgrade program and to consider a Kiowa Warrior service life extension program (SLEP) as the alternative AAS solution. In testimony March 27 before a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, Maj. Gen. William Crosby, the Army’s program executive officer for aviation, said, “The AAS demo will clearly define whether we execute a SLEP of the OH-58 aircraft, consistent with what we have done to the other platforms, or if we pursue an alternative material solution.”