May 10, 2013
Credit: U.S. Army
U.S. Army officials on Wednesday said they do not expect to decide until later this year whether to start a multibillion-dollar program to develop a new armed scout helicopter, or extend the life of the current Vietnam-era OH-58 Kiowa Warrior.
The news marks another delay for companies interested in bidding for a program valued at $6 billion to $8 billion. The Army’s decision was expected last December but had already been put off until spring. On Wednesday, officials said they now expected a decision in the summer or early autumn.
Industry executives say they hope to hear more in June or July, but their hopes for a new acquisition program - one of few on the horizon - have dimmed given disparaging comments by top Army officials in recent weeks about flight demonstrations of some possible “off-the-shelf” helicopters last year.
Lieutenant General William Phillips, military director of Army acquisition, told a subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee that none of the existing helicopters in production met the Army’s requirements, which meant that any new program would require significant development work.
“We didn’t find a single aircraft that was out there that could meet the Army’s requirements,” Phillips told lawmakers. “So if we were to go forward with an armed aerial scout, it would essentially be a development program.” He said he now expected a decision around mid-summer.
Army officials have said privately that a new development program could take a decade to carry out, although some industry executives say they could execute a program far more quickly.
Regardless of the direction the Army takes, it will proceed with a separate program to improve the cockpit displays, sensors and other capabilities of the current OH-58 fleet, Lieutenant General James Barclay, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for budget issues, told a subcommittee of the Senate Armed Service Committee on Wednesday.
“That allows us to address safety and obsolescence issues with the current fleet we have, which will bridge us to either decision we make to procure new (helicopters) or to (extend the life of) the current fleet,” Barclay said.
U.S. Army leaders had hoped to launch a new competition for a replacement for the Kiowa Warrior helicopter, but mounting budget pressures have raised questions about whether they can proceed with a new program.