Army Announces Delay In Copter Decision - Maybe
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Army said Thursday it had delayed announcing its selection of a contractor for its newest helicopter, but that might not be the final word.
Thursday night, two potential contractors said they had been told by the Army that an announcement originally scheduled for Friday, the delay of which was announced during the day Thursday, would proceed as originally scheduled.
No spokesman for the Army could be reached. A spokeswoman for the Defense Department, Karen Aguilar, said as far as she knew, the announcement of the delay still stood.
In Mesa, Ariz., McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co. spokesman Ken Jensen said his company had been told Lt. Gen. Ronald Andreson, the St. Louis-based program manager, that the announcement would be made Friday after all.
Foster Morgan, spokesman for Sikorsky Aircraft Co. of Stratford, Conn., said, ″I have confirmed with my program manager″ that Andreson passed similar word to Sikorsky.
Informed of the companies’ announcements, a senior defense official said an announcement was not a certainty for Friday.
″It’s not a done deal yet, but there’s a possibility all the hurdles will be cleared in time,″ he said.
The official, who spoke on condition that he not be identified, said one problem was getting information to Secretary Dick Cheney, who was traveling in California, and other officials who wanted more information.
Since Cheney cancelled the Navy’s advanced A-12 stealth attack plane in December, officials have gone to great lengths to make sure major contracts are understood in detail by senior officials before they are announced.
In the afternoon, Army spokeswoman Maj. Nancy Burt said the announcement, which had been scheduled for 4:15 p.m. EST on Friday, would be made some time next week.
A Pentagon source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the delay came about because acting undersecretary of defense for acquisition, Donald Yockey, had told the Army more time was needed to review the contract bids.
″There’s nothing wrong with the contracts, he just wants to review them,″ the source said.
Given the near-certain shrinkage of the nation’s defense budget, the stakes are high. The contract amounts to one of the very few large weapons programs the Pentagon plans to hand out in the coming years.
The new aircraft has been dubbed the LHX, for light helicopter- experimental. It will replace the aging Cobra light attack helicopter, as well as two observation copters, the OH-6 and OH-58, Burt said.
The Army must choose between one of two teams that have been working on developing plans for the futuristic chopper.
One team, dubbed the ″SuperTeam,″ joins McDonnell Douglas and Bell Helicopter Textron of Fort Worth, Texas. The other, called the ″FirstTeam,″ is made up of Philadelphia-based Boeing Helicopters and Sikorsky, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp.
The announcement involves a $2.7 billion development-phase contract, which funds the production of a prototype, Burt said.
She said the team awarded that contract will have a major advantage in obtaining the full $34 billion contract, extending into the next century, ″depending upon future congressional funding and the contractor’s performance.″
In order to fulfill Army requirements that the new copter be able to survive over enemy territory as it scouts out targets, and deal with possible air-to-air combat challenges, both teams have come up with concepts that incorporate radical changes in helicopter design.
The Sikorsky-Boeing version has a fantail built into the rear of the aircraft. The McDonnell Douglas-Bell aircraft uses the NOTAR - No Tail Rotor - design, which replaces the conventional rear rotor with a controlled air circulation system, providing thrust from a jet of air captured by a fan.
Last year, as part of the Pentagon’s post-Cold War cost-cutting, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney slashed the number of light helicopters to be purchased from 2,096 to 1,292. That number could be increased to 1,681 depending on decisions that have yet to be made about the future structure of the armed forces, Burt said.