I/ITSEC 2019: US Navy trainer helicopter award schedule slips
The US Navy’s (USN) TH-73A trainer helicopter contract award is to be delayed by at least a month as the US Government continues to function under Continuing Resolution (CR) legislation - preventing FY2020 new start programmes from commencing.
An original date of November 2019 had been planned for industry competitors to receive a $900 million contract for 130 new naval trainers to replace the legacy Bell TH-57 Sea Ranger fleet, but until an approved appropriations act for FY2020 has been signed into law, no such developments will take place.
A second Continuing Resolution currently lasts until December 21 which could see decision-makers agree on appropriations, but the possibility of a third would mean an even longer TH-73A delay.
‘In the event of prolonged CR, NAVAIR will continue to coordinate with industry and adjust requirements accordingly,’ a NAVAIR spokesperson confirmed to Shephard.
Industry participants have also had their respective aircraft evaluated by the US Navy as part of the acquisition, with a four-year production schedule planned - post contract award.
‘Airbus Helicopters stands ready at any moment to fully support the navy’s AHTS [Advanced Helicopter Training System] requirement with the best-value solution....and technically mature H135,’ a spokesperson for the manufacturer said in a statement.
‘In order to prepare for the navy’s plan to begin operations as soon as next year, we have already begun production of the first helicopter for the navy out of our current production line in Columbus, Mississippi that has delivered more than 450 Lakota helicopters to the US Army and US Navy, and which is easily augmentable for H135 production.’
The H135 has also completed 355,000 military helicopter training hours according to Airbus, but there are some doubts about the aircraft’s suitability for selection because of high costs associated with repeated autorotation to the ground manoeuvres, though the company insists that the aircraft meets all outstanding technical requirements covered by the navy tender.
‘Leonardo fully supports this important naval aviation programme to replace all the training helicopters offering the best value, lowest risk solution,’ a spokesperson for the OEM explained. ‘The navy has done an excellent job keeping the AHTS (TH-73) programme on schedule as a top priority directly supporting naval aviation readiness and manpower, and the TH-119 stands ready to serve.’
Having won a MH-139 contract in partnership with Boeing for the US Air Force’s Huey replacement in September, Leonardo are seeking to secure another major piece of rotary business with the DoD, and will look to its Philadelphia production base to complete TH-119 manufacturing in the event of winning the TH-73A acquisition.
The aircraft is a military variant of the AW119, currently in service with 40 countries and designed as an ideal solution for autorotations, maritime SAR procedures and shipboard operations, according to the company.
Should Bell’s competitor aircraft - the 407GXi - be selected by the navy, production is set to take place at the company’s Ozark, Alabama facilities.
The manufacturer has previously said that the helicopter is a 'low risk' solution for the navy, while a transition to it from the older Sea Ranger would enable a ‘streamlining [of] instructor pilot’ training.
Bell also confirmed in August 2019 that the 407 global fleet had amassed six million flight hours.
The company had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.
Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Florida, conducts US Navy pilot training.
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