A separate Air Force contest for a new rescue helicopter also initially looked promising to industry, but only one firm, Sikorsky, ultimately bid for the work after its rivals dropped out, arguing that the rules were slanted to favor Sikorsky.
Samir Mehta, president of military systems at Sikorsky, said his company had invested $50 million to develop its new X2 helicopter, the fastest helicopter ever built, and was putting even more money into a larger military prototype, the S-97.
But he said there was a limit to how much any company could invest in new technologies given competing demands for resources within their parent corporations, and uncertainty about Pentagon programs.
“We can only do that to a certain point on our own,” Mehta told Army officials at the conference. “We need engagement; we need to know what your requirements are going forward.”
Mehta said companies were increasingly looking for orders from foreign governments and commercial customers to help underwrite technology developments in the helicopter market.
Steve Mundt, a former Army officer who works for the North American unit of Europe’s EADS, urged participants to speak out against curbs on government participation in industry conferences that were imposed last year after reported excesses in a few cases. The measures have sharply decreased attendance at conferences such as the one hosted yearly by the AUSA.
“We’re under attack,” Mundt said. “We cannot allow congressional politics or something else to prevent industry and the (defense) department from meeting.”
He also took aim at the Pentagon’s slow procurement process and cumbersome certification procedures, arguing that investment in new technologies would likely be driven more and more by commercial and international customers.
Mundt urged Pentagon officials to continue funding new weapons development programs despite current budget pressures, warning that fewer opportunities would have “rippling effects” on the U.S. industrial base, investment and the workforce.