Army Moves Ahead with Airbus Trainer Plan

 - December 7, 2014, 2:50 AM
The U.S. Army recently placed an order for 31 Airbus UH-72S Lakotas.

The U.S. Army is moving ahead with the plan to use the Airbus UH-72A Lakota light twin as its helicopter primary trainer and the legal proceedings over the matter could be effectively over. In October and November the Army placed two separate orders for a total of 31 UH-72As that likely will be used as trainers and more orders are expected. The Army intends to use as many as 200 Lakotas, the military variant of the EC145, for its training mission.

An Army spokesman told AIN that the Army plans to acquire 82 more new Lakotas for the training mission, including the 31 ordered in October and November, with the remainder shifting from Active Component Army units. The Army National Guard will maintain its current fleet of 212 UH-72As and none of these will be used for the active Army training mission. The Army is acquiring three more cockpit procedural trainers from the Airbus Group in support of its training mission.

The Army’s plan first came to light in its FY2015 budget proposal and immediately drew criticism from rivals Bell and AgustaWestland (AW). The Italian manufacturer went so far as to file suit to block the deal, claiming it should be put out for competitive bidding. AW filed a complaint on September 19 and sought a federal temporary restraining order to stop the acquisition. It wants to offer its AW119Kx single or AW109 light twin as alternatives. Spokesmen from both AW and Bell declined to comment for this article. Bell is not pursuing a legal challenge to the Army plan, even though its new 505 light single is viewed as a viable low-cost contender for the military training market. Sources close to the case told AIN that Bell’s inaction is prompted by its desire not to alienate the Army as the company pursues far more lucrative Army business such as the Future Vertical Lift program, which could buy the V-280 Valor third-generation tiltrotor that Bell is currently developing.

Proceedings Halted

On October 14 the United States Court of Federal Claims issued a temporary order denying the U.S. Government’s challenge of the AW action and issued a stay in all further proceedings on the case pending an Army issuance of its final justification and approval (J&A) to sole-source the helicopter trainer procurement. However, that J&A may never be issued, a maneuver that effectively quashes AW’s complaint.

The Army contends that the “new” training helicopters are being acquired under its existing 2006 Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) contract with Airbus, and therefore the purchase does not require a new J&A and is not subject to court jurisdiction or challenge. That 2006 contract calls for the Army to purchase up to 500 UH-72As over 10 years. To date, Airbus has delivered approximately 320 UH-72As to the U.S. Navy, Army and Army National Guard at an average unit price of $5.5 million.

An October 20 “defendant’s status report” filing with the federal claims court by Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce Branda on behalf of the Army noted, “AgustaWestland’s…response confuses the ongoing procurement of UH-72 (Lakota) helicopters pursuant to an existing contract between Airbus Defense and Space and the Army, and the potential new sole-source procurement at issue here.”

Branda noted that under the LUH contract, “The Army may procure up to 55 Lakota helicopters in each program year 2014 and 2015, ending on September 30 of each year. The Army already has exercised a portion of its 2014 option to procure 26 Lakotas. Airbus and the Army have agreed that the Army may exercise its remaining 2014 option to purchase up to 29 Lakotas before November 30, 2014. The Army is currently taking steps to exercise part of the remaining 2014 option for 17 Lakotas and intends to do so soon. The Army also may exercise the 2015 option to purchase 55 helicopters before Sept. 30, 2015.”

The UH-72s ordered by the Army in October and November will be delivered in 2016.