The speed, maneuverability and agility of the new helicopter will provide “game-changing” capabilities to the U.S. military, Kevin Bredenbeck, chief test pilot for Sikorsky, told Reuters in a separate interview.
Steve Engebretson, who heads Sikorsky’s armed aerial scout effort, said the company was confident that it could price the new helicopters at a cost in the “mid-teens” of millions - just slightly more than the Army would likely spend to upgrade the OH-58 helicopters it is using now. But he said the new aircraft would give the Army far more capabilities than it has now.
Other helicopter makers, including Europe’s EADS (EAD.PA), which has a new helicopter called the X3, and AgustaWestland, a unit of Italy’s Finmeccanica SpA (SIFI.MI), have also urged the Army to launch a new development program.
Army officials are expected to reach a decision about the issue in coming weeks, although the decision will still need approval by top Pentagon acquisition officials.
Mehta said he did not expect the Air Force and Navy to back off their new helicopter competitions, both of which come after failed earlier programs, given the increased age of the current fleets, which is driving up maintenance costs, and the Pentagon’s increased focus on affordable programs.
He said Pentagon officials also recognized that they could not continually ask industry to invest time and money to prepare bids for competitions only to see programs get cancelled.
“They’ve taken a really pragmatic, cost-effective approach,” he said. “That provides us with a little more confidence that they won’t back away from these programs once they’ve started.”
Sikorsky also sees strong growth in international markets in coming years, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, Mehta said, noting that a majority of the helicopters in use around the world were over 20 years old.