The Department of Defense says "it will not certify the U.S. Army Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) program for continuation". That's Pentagon-ese for "the end." And it's bad news for Bell Helicopter and its ARH-70A Arapaho.
Photo: U.S. Army
DOD had to decide whether to recertify the ARH after the program breached the Nunn-McCurdy limits on cost growth. Recertification means the Pentagon must reconsider whether it still needs a program despite its higher cost. In the case of ARH, they decided they did not.
A DOD statement late Oct. 16 says John Young, the acquisition undersecretary, "determined the fundamental cost and schedule basis underlying award of the ARH contract [to Bell] is no longer valid". The ARH-70 - a derivative of the Civil Bell 407 - was expected to cost $359 million to develop and have an average unit cost of $8.56 million. The DoD's latest estimates put the development cost at $942 million and the unit cost at $14.48 million. Delivery was to begin in 2009. Now it is projected for 2013.
Instead of continuing with ARH, Young says the Army will be "given an opportunity to define a coherent, disciplined Kiowa Warrior replacement program, and to obtain more rigorous contract terms for its development." That suggests the Army is not guilt-free when it comes to ARH's problems. There will be plenty of recriminations to come, and certainly Bell will carry the burden of blame, but there have been accusations of changing customer requirements.
Bell dodged the bullet when the DoD recertified the U.S. Marine Corps' H-1 upgrade after it breached Nunn-McCurdy limits, and that program appears to be headed in the right direction at last. But the ARH started life as a relatively simple development of an off-the-shelf helicopter, and went badly wrong - whatever the reasons.
What happens next? Boeing is waiting in the wings with its AH-6X, the loser in the original ARH competition. The company has continued work on its own money, first through the Unmanned Little Bird program and now for the international market. The aircraft is probably pretty close to being ready - but whether it is what the Army will want is another matter.
Bell could rebid the ARH-70 on a new cost base, as the helicopter is fairly well along in development. And EADS could offer an armed version of the UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopter. Or the Army could soldier on with a modernization of its hard-worn Kiowa Warriors. For something that started out as a low-cost way to make the most out of funding freed up by cancellation of the RAH-66 Comanche, this sure went wrong.