However, both U.S.-based companies—Boeing and Sikorsky—also see an opportunity in offering off-the-shelf options that could reduce the cost for Europe to procure a system and, potentially, operate it.
Boeing, with EADS as a partner, could offer the CH-47F, which is now in production for the U.S. Army at the company's Philadelphia plant.
Sikorsky's option, the CH-53K—which is being designed to roughly double the load of today's CH-53E while maintaining the same aircraft footprint for shipboard use—is less mature than Boeing's concept, but the Marine Corps appears satisfied with the program's progress. The first CH-53K ground-test vehicle is slated for delivery in early October, says Col. Robert Pridgeon, the Marines' program manager. Two of three engines are already installed on the aircraft.
A bare-head light-off without attached rotor blades is planned for the second quarter of 2013; a powered test with blades should follow within another eight months. Sikorsky is on contract to build four flight-test articles, and a low-rate, initial production decision is slated for 2015.
Because Sikorsky is not yet through testing, Boeing may see an opportunity to push Europe for the Chinook in hopes of whetting the customer's appetite before Sikorsky can demonstrate its off-the-shelf candidate.
In the meantime, another industry pairing has emerged with Northrop Grumman as prime and AgustaWestland (owned by the Italian Finmeccanica conglomerate). They would offer the AW101 platform for the U.S. Air Force Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH) project and the Marine Corps presidential helo replacement.
Though Boeing's CH-47 previously won the U.S. Air Force Pave Hawk replacement effort, the selection was dashed after procurement irregularities surfaced. The AW101 won the Marines' last attempt at buying a presidential helicopter under the prime control of Lockheed Martin, but that project was terminated owing to poor management and requirements creep.
Northrop Grumman is not known for its rotorcraft work, aside from integrating mission systems into the Fire Scout product line. However, the company is approaching the partnership with AgustaWestland as an opportunity to feature its expertise as in integrator coupled with an off-the-shelf 101, says Scott Winship, Northrop Grumman's lead for rotorcraft projects. “We don't want to learn everything that needs to be learned about rotorcraft,” he says; as prime, Northrop plans to defer that expertise and work to AgustaWestland, he adds. But the Italian company clearly needed a U.S. partner to manage its bids, and “we saw a pattern of failure that we can turn around” from the previous Marine One program, he says. “It appears we cam do better, so we jumped in.”
Gaining a foothold in this market would be a success for Northrop Grumman during a tough time for the company. It is fighting to keep its Global Hawk line with the Air Force alive, and the service has passed on its efforts to pour more money into its E-8C ground surveillance program. Northrop appears to be filling a void left by the dissolved relationship between Lockheed Martin and AgustaWestland.