The controversy around the U.S. Army’s ARH-70 Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program in the last two months might seem like a political and bureaucratic brownout. As with a real brownout, the key to avoiding a crack-up is keeping some reference point. So it might be useful to review ARH reference points
But first, a recap of recent events involving the critical program to replace war-weary OH-58D Kiowa Warriors that is running a year or more behind schedule. The Army’s original schedule called for fielding the first unit equipped with 30 ARH-70As by September. That has slipped to December 2009.
On March 20, the Army Systems Acquisition Review Council met on the ARH program. That reportedly led the assistant Army secretary for acquisition, logistics, and technology, Claude Bolton, to call Bell CEO Richard Millman late on the 20th to tell him the program would be cancelled. The next day that decision had changed — possibly with help from Texas’ congressional delegation. (It may not have hurt that the acting Army secretary, Pete Geren, is a former congressman from Fort Worth.) The Army said it had ordered Bell to stop work and come up with a plan within 30 days to salvage the schedule or risk losing the contract.
Eight days later, the Army said Bell could resume work, pending review of its plan, to avoid unnecessary delays. Bell had said it would keep funding ARH work on its own.
The main problems delaying ARH are said to center on integration of the FLIR Systems Brite Star 2 stabilized multi-sensor system, the heart of the aircraft’s target acquisition sensor suite, with the Rockwell Collins-built Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS).
FLIR was on the Bell team that won the initial, $210-million contract in June 2005. In early 2006, the Army called for a fly-off between the FLIR sensor suite and one built by Raytheon. FLIR was again "selected" for the ARH program in July 2006 — more than a year after the initial contract. That set back integration work a like period.
Rockwell Collins’ CAAS effectively was specified by the Army. Developed for Army special forces, it is on the Boeing A/MH-6 Little Bird, the other contender for the ARH contract.
The target acquisition sensor suite is the "non-development" part of the otherwise commercial-off-the-shelf ARH program, but getting CAAS to work with the Brite Star 2 proved more of a challenge.
In late March, FLIR said it, Bell, and Rockwell Collins had completed four weeks of day and night flight tests at the Army’s Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz. to validate the target acquisition system’s key performance capabilities. The 300 hr of flight tests had "resolved all significant issues" standing in the way of the critical limited user test. That test slipped to late March and beyond.
The question remains how much of the ARH delays are Bell’s and how much stem from changing Army requirements?