Bell Helicopter is taking its campaign to sell the V280 Valor tiltrotor concept straight to potential U.S. Army operators with a “productivity-per-hour” appeal rather than the standard “cost-per-flying-hour” argument.
“Our starting point is to go to the end user,” said Bell CEO John Garrison during a roundtable breakfast with reporters Oct. 22. The Valor offers “a very different value proposition. It is a very different mindset.”
This approach also is likely to be pursued by Karem Aircraft, also offering a tiltrotor in the Army Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD) program. Through the JMR-TD, the Army eventually will downselect to two contenders that will proceed into the Future Vertical Lift – Medium competition to replace up to 4,000 Sikorsky UH-60s and Boeing AH-64s in the fleet today.
At issue is a tension between the traditional Army method for acquiring aviation systems, which measures value by cost to produce the units and cost per flying hour for operations.
The tiltrotor proposition, however, is to convince the Army to widen its view of the cost of the system to reflect the advantages of its speed and range. The Army currently uses eight main bases in Afghanistan for aviation assets; the range and speed offered by the Valor could allow the service to shrink that footprint to two forward operating bases for support of the entire country, Garrison says. This would reduce the number of soldiers needed for such support functions as security, lowering the practical operating cost of the aircraft.
The V280 also would be self-deployable with its 2,100-nm range using enhanced fuel carriage onboard, reducing the amount of airlift needed to support a deployment, Garrison adds.
This campaign could face similar challenges as those faced by the Global Hawk in winning a Navy competition for a future P-3 replacement, and in EADS’ lost bid to capture the U.S. Air Force aerial refueler competition. In both cases, the value for the aircraft was placed by the contractor on effectiveness, not on unit or a traditional accounting of operating cost.
In the case of Valor, Garrison acknowledges that the value is not only calculable in the cost of the system itself, but in estimating the cost avoidance of other systems, such as the reduced need for support, on the overall Army budget.
Bell, Karem Aircraft, Sikorsky/Boeing and AVX have each won JMR-TD contracts. The Army plans to downselect to two for flight demonstrations in 2017.