McDonnell Douglas, Westland Helicopters Awarded British Deal
LONDON (AP) _ The British government awarded one of its largest defense contracts of the decade Thursday, ordering 67 army attack helicopters valued at 2.5 billion pounds, or $4 billion, from Westland Helicopters and McDonnell Douglas Corp.
The decision to pick the Westland-McDonnell Douglas team followed a fierce, two-year lobbying battle among six contractors, including British Aerospace PLC and Seattle-based Boeing Co.
In addition, the British government had come under intense pressure from new French President Jacques Chirac to choose the Tiger helicopter _ offered by Franco-German Eurocopter and allied with British Aerospace _ or risk being excluded from future European defense initiatives.
Britain’s Westland is a unit of GKN PLC. McDonnell Douglas, based in St. Louis, is the designer of the Apache helicopter.
Defense Secretary Michael Portillo, in announcing the decision Thursday, cited the Apache’s strong record with the U.S. military as a reason for why it was chosen.
In addition, analysts said, the Apache was more readily available than the others, making it a more favorable.
Westland will assemble the Apaches and manufacture their transmissions at its factory in Yeovil, southwest England. Rolls Royce will build their RTM 322 engines and Shorts, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, will contribute Hellfire anti-armor missiles.
Portillo said the British government also has ``negotiated rights for the maintenance and repair of Apache in the U.K. and will be offering this service to all other Apache users in Europe.″
Analysts had said that the race for this bid was too narrow to call up to the last minute.
But, in the end, the Apache’s superior payload, heftier firepower and advanced Longbow radar system won the day, even though the helicopter was estimated to be the most expensive, analysts said.
The Apache also had the added attraction of being more readily available, while the Tiger is still in the prototype stage. Same was true of the Cobra Venom, offered by Britain’s GEC-Marconi and Textron Inc. of Providence, R.I., which has yet to fly.
Boeing had teamed up with Sikorsky, a unit of United Technologies Corp. of Hartford, Conn., on the RAH-66 Comanche helicopter, but analysts had said this contender was surrounded with doubts about its delivery date and funding.
In Paris, the French were disturbed by Britain’s decision. Defense Minister Charles Millon said he was ``grieved″ by the choice and conservative lawmaker Olivier Darrason blasted the British government for taking ``the side of the Americans who have decided to destroy the European defense industry.″