“Army and [Office of the Secretary of Defense] leadership have been briefed on the AAS study, but are awaiting this additional information prior to making the decision,” says Lt. Col. Chris Mills, armed scout helicopter product manager. “Needless to say, fiscal uncertainty has affected AAS affordability decisions,” he says, adding that “the program faces the same future budget uncertainties of other Department of Defense acquisition programs.”
Army aviation's recommendation to buy a new scout off the shelf is the result of a lengthy AOA, evaluation of industry responses to a request for information and voluntary flight demonstrations of available helicopters. Conducted between September and December of last year, the flight demos allowed the Army to evaluate the off-the-shelf AAS contenders: Bell's OH-58D Block 2, Boeing's AH-6i, EADS North America's AAS-72/72X and MD Helicopters' MD 540F. AgustaWestland demonstrated its AW139M as a surrogate for the smaller AW169 that it would offer for AAS.
The demos “were an effort to see what armed scout capabilities were currently available and to see where industry stood with respect to the technological maturity of their AAS candidates,” Mills says. In addition to the flight demos, the Army visited companies that responded to the AAS request for information with helicopters still on the drawing board. These included AVX with a coaxial-rotor, dual ducted-fan upgrade of the OH-58D and Sikorsky with the S-97 Raider.
Afterward, Sikorsky proclaimed that the Raider would have a $15 million flyaway cost for the AAS, compared with an estimated $12 million for an equivalent off-the-shelf conventional helicopter. The statement was made to counter assertions that the all-new Raider is unaffordable. “There are too many misperceptions out there. It's time to put in print that this is a $15 million aircraft,” says Steve Engebretson, Sikorsky's AAS program director.
Although it would cost 25% more than an off-the-shelf helicopter, the coaxial-rotor, pusher-propeller Raider offers higher speed and performance, he says. The aircraft is being designed for a 235-kt. maximum speed and to hover out of ground effect at 10,000 ft. on a 95F day. “On a dollars-per-pound basis, an equivalent conventional helicopter will cost $12 million,” Engebretson says. “So for 25% more, you get 100% more capability out of the platform, and a longer life,” as the Raider is an all-new design.
The two prototypes are being built with $200 million of industry funding: $150 million from Sikorsky and the rest from its suppliers. The first aircraft is to fly in 2014, the earliest an AAS competition could be staged. “This is not a complex aircraft,” Engebretson says. “It is just the integration of conventional technologies into a high-technology package.” Sikorsky's cost comparison assumes production of 428 aircraft to replace the Army's OH-58D/F armed scouts and includes a notional $5 million for the mission-equipment package of sensors and weapons on both the Raider and off-the-shelf contenders. The company is not defining the package, but Engebretson says the Raider's open systems architecture will accept any sensors and weapons the Army chooses.
Sikorsky's argument in favor of Raider also assumes the Army would be prepared to wait until 2017, after the worst of the budget-cutting is past, to launch a new-start AAS program to replace the Kiowa Warrior. It also assumes the Army would want a military-specification aircraft, meeting the full ballistic-tolerance and crash-survivability requirements. As commercial off-the-shelf helicopters—and the Raider prototypes—are not mil-spec, this would entail a development program. But if the Army decides to launch an AAS competition in 2014 to buy non-developmental, non-mil-spec helicopters more quickly—for which several contenders are pushing—Engebretson says Sikorsky “will put a gun and a FLIR” on the Raider prototype design and offer that.
If the Army proceeds with a procurement, information from the demos and studies “will be used to help establish achievable AAS requirements. A decision is expected in the spring timeframe,” says Mills. “The Army has asked industry to remain patient while they make an informed decision regarding the AAS, especially considering the uncertain fiscal environment.”