August 22, 2012:
The U.S. Army is looking for a new armed scout helicopter to replace the Vietnam era OH-58D. One of the competitors (AAH-72X) is an armed version of the new UH-72A Light Utility Helicopters the army is buying to replace the last of its UH-1 transport helicopters. The twin engine UH-72A ("Lakota"), previously called the UH-145, costs about $9 million each, although the cost can be higher depending on the accessories. The U.S. Army is buying 345 UH-72As, from European firm EADS. Most have already been delivered.
This is the second attempt to obtain a scout helicopter. An earlier (2005) competition had been won by the ARH-70 but that contract was canceled after the manufacturer increased the price by 70 percent (to $14.5 million per helicopter).
The UH-72A is a militarized version of the EC145, a helicopter very popular with law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. The UH-72A purchase is a side effect of the cancellation of the Comanche scout helicopter eight years ago (mainly because of constantly increasing costs). Comanche was perceived as too expensive and complex. The UH-72A mainly replaces the few remaining UH-1 helicopters, which are being retired because of old age. The AAH-72X armed scout version can carry about a ton of weapons (machine-gun pod, plus guided and unguided rockets) and sensors.
The UH-72A has about the same capacity as the UH-1, despite its smaller size. The 3.6 ton UH-72A has a top speed of 260 kilometers an hour and a max range of 660 kilometers. Average endurance per sortie is about two hours. The helicopter has a crew of two and can carry up to eight passengers, or about three-quarters of a ton of cargo or weapons. The EC145 was introduced eight years ago and has been very popular with its users. This, and price stability, are being pushed as the chief selling points for the AAH-72X.
The competition to select a new armed scout helicopter will mainly come down to which manufacturer can stick to their price estimates. For decades it's been customary to offer a low price, then demand numerous increases because of "unforeseen" problems. This is called "low balling" and is technically legal. But the military can no longer afford it and a growing number of procurement projects are being cancelled because of "low balling."