Next week Airbus Helicopters will deliver the Army its 400th UH-72 Lakota light utility helicopter (LUH), another milestone for a program that has consistently run on-time and under-budget for a decade.
The official handover will occur Aug. 29 at Fort Rucker, Ala., where the Army trains its helicopter aviators.
The UH-72 serves as the light utility helicopter flown by the National Guard on domestic missions where it can operate more efficiently and affordably than larger military-specific aircraft like a UH-60 Black Hawk.
As a result of the Army’s Aviation Restructure initiative, the Lakota took over for the Bell TH-67 Creek ss the primary training aircraft for all Army rotorcraft aviators. The upcoming delivery will be the 160th UH-72 to enter service in that role at the Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, said Scott Tumpak, Airbus Helicopters’ Lakota program director. Airbus Helicopters is part of Europe’s Airbus.
Half of all Army rotorcraft pilots now train on the UH-72, which Airbus builds at its Columbus, Miss., assembly plant. Anticipating increased demand for the aircraft as a result of the ARI, Airbus opened and expanded the plant to include the Lakota’s flight line, paint shop, warehouse, administrative offices, flight operations and flight test engineering.
“We feel this is a pretty significant accomplishment within the world of defense contracting,” Tumpak told Defense Daily in an Aug. 22 interview. “We are seeing the immediate contribution that a modern aircraft – glass cockpit, twin engine – brings in terms of student readiness going into the next set of training on the Army’s go-to-war aircraft.”
Airbus is on contract for another 12 beyond the 400 it will soon have delivered, but the fiscal year 2017 omnibus budget funded 28 more aircraft to build out the Army’s published requirement of 428 aircraft.
The Army’s fiscal year 2018 budget request includes $108.3 million for 13 more UH-72s. Budget documents describing the program call for three more aircraft in fiscal year 2019, bringing the fleet to 441 helicopters at a total acquisition cost of just under $3 bilion.
“We do expect that the [program of record] is extended to support the additional quantities of aircraft where there is funding on the table for emerging requirements,” he said.
Because the Lakota is a militarized version of the Eurocopter EC145 – now called the Airbus H145 – the company offered the Army maintenance support through its existing commercial-helicopter support infrastructure.
“If we look ahead longer term on the program, one of the advantages to the user has always been that … the basis is a commercial aircraft,” he said. “The Army has flown those aircraft within FAA parameters, so they are able to leverage the benefit of our commercial support services.”
In December, Airbus was awarded a contract for UH-72 logistics support services over five one-year option periods. The Army exercised one of those options on Aug. 22 when it announced it awarded Airbus a $34 million firm-fixed-price modification to the previous deal for contractor logistics support, spare parts and sustainment of additional flying hours.
That work is performed at Airbus’ U.S. headquarters in Grand Prairie, Texas, and runs through April 2018, according to the Army contract announcement.
Airbus pitched an armed version of the UH-72 to the Army to fulfill the scout/reconnaissance role formerly held by the Bell OH-58 Kiowa, but the program stalled under budget pressure. Another element of the ARI was shifting AH-64 Apache gunships into the armed scout role, teamed with RQ-7 Shadow drones, and divesting of the Kiowa. Bell is part Textron [TXT].
A similar aircraft is on offer to foreign military sales customers. German special operations forces and the Royal Thai navy already operate the aircraft, which is hardened with military survivability equipment, Tumpak said.