Dan Bailey, a former Apache helicopter pilot who heads the "future
vertical lift" program and the research effort under way to explore
possible approaches, said there was no push to reduce funding for
the program, despite pressure on nearly every other arms program in
the Pentagon's portfolio.
"The science and technology effort is supported 100 percent," Bailey
told reporters at a conference hosted by the Association of the U.S.
Army, an Army booster group. "That's significant on its own. There
is no other portfolio that is not feeling a significant cut."
U.S. weapons makers have expressed concern that big cuts in military
spending could undermine the program, one of very few new research
and development efforts seen in decades, but Army officials last
week said the effort was a key priority.
Army acquisition chief Heidi Shyu and General Dennis Via, who heads
Army Materiel Command, both underscored their support for the
program in speeches at the conference.
Bailey said Pentagon budget officials left funding intact for the
"joint multirole" technology demonstration project, the precursor to
the future vertical lift aircraft, a program that analysts say could
be worth upwards of $100 billion.
He said the Pentagon expected to spend $354 million between 2011 and
2019 on the science and technology phase, but declined to estimate
what the later development program would be worth.
Current plans call for an analysis of possible approaches for the
new rotorcraft in 2016 or 2017, followed by a decision to move
forward around 2018 and a contract award around 2020.
Ultimately, the program will replace between 2,000-4,000 medium
class UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters built by Sikorsky
Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp and Boeing Co AH-64
attack helicopters after 2030.
He said details were still being worked out for funding the
subsequent production program, but it would not require major
funding until it enters production around 2029 or 2030.
LEARNING FROM MISTAKES
The Army last year chose four industry teams to do early work on
concepts for a new vertical lift aircraft, and will winnow the field
later this year, although it insists that the actual production
program will involve another competition.
The four are Textron Inc's Bell Helicopter unit, which is teamed
with Lockheed Martin Corp; Sikorsky, teamed with Boeing; AVX
Aircraft and Karem Aircraft.
[to top of second column]
Bailey told Reuters in an interview later that his office was trying
to learn from mistakes made on earlier complex arms programs,
including Lockheed's F-35 fighter program, which is also being
developed for use by a number of military services.
He said the key to success was starting early and working closely
with industry to understand what technology solutions were possible,
rather than pre-determining the outcome.
The Army is focused heavily on getting affordable aircraft that will
be cheaper and easier to maintain than current helicopters, he said.
The program also works closely with the "Vertical Lift Consortium,"
an industry group that includes a broad array of suppliers involved
in the sector. Bailey said members of the group's executive board
participate in high-level meetings on the program at the Pentagon,
along with senior officers.
"We want to make sure that we're a team; that we're all aligned and
that we're moving in the same direction," he said. "We understand
that if we don't have that industrial partner base, then the
next-generation vertical lift will not be available to us 60 years
He said work on the technology concepts was already re-energizing
industry, prompting companies to hire new engineers, and revamp and
update their computer-based design tools.
"This is the next big thing," said Sam Mehta, president of
Sikorsky's Defense Systems and Services division.
He said Sikorsky's collaboration with Boeing on the program was
going well. "We are developing things with Boeing that neither of us
could have developed on our own or in the same period of time."
(Editing by Robert Birsel)
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