The schedule-recovery plan that convinced the U.S. Army to leave the ARH-70A Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program in Bell Helicopter’s hands pushes delivery of the first aircraft back nearly two years and adds three test aircraft to ensure Bell sticks to that delayed schedule.
Bell Helicopter also has agreed to absorb some cost increases that have caused the price of the 512-aircraft program to nearly double, from $5.2 million to roughly $9 million an aircraft, or about $2.6 billion to more than $4.6 billion for the program.
To sustain its armed reconnaissance capabilities until the new aircraft can be fielded, Army aviation is figuring out how it can keep its shrinking, underpowered, and overtaxed fleet of Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warriors in service until 2017. The -58Ds are commonly recognized as stalwarts of combat operations in southwest Asia. There are two squadrons of Kiowa Warriors in Iraq flying 100 hr a month per aircraft.
"We are continuing to refine the re-plan," Col. Keith Robinson, the Army’s armed scout helicopter project manager, told Rotor & Wing.
The Army in late March threatened Bell and its contractor team with cancellation of the program and told them to come up with a plan to save it within 30 days. Bell delivered its proposal in late April, and top Army officials reviewed and approved that plan in mid-May.
The new plan pushes back the date for equipping the first unit with 30 ARH-70As to the fourth quarter of Fiscal 2010, or as late as September 30, 2010. In addition to the aircraft delivered for the first unit, the Bell team would have to deliver eight to the U.S. Army Aviation Warfighting Center at Fort Rucker, Ala. for flight instruction uses.
When the Bell team won the contract in June 2005, the schedule called for the first unit to stand up in September 2008, following a limited user test that had slipped most recently to February of this year. That test now won’t be conducted earlier than November.
Bell and the Army had four prototype ARH-70As in a test program supporting the original schedule, one of which was destroyed in a February crash. The new plan adds three test articles to the program. Those three aircraft are dubbed production-representative test vehicles, or PRTVs, and are to be dedicated to demonstrating that Bell and its key contractors can, in fact, meet the new development and production schedule before the Army must approve full-rate production.