After years of pursuing foreign customers, Bell-Boeing has finally landed its first international contract for the V-22 Osprey. The alliance of Textron’s Bell Helicopter [TXT] and Boeing [BA] will sell five of the tiltrotor aircraft to Japan for $332 million, the Navy said July 14.
That sum, which modifies a previously awarded contract, also includes support, training and equipment, said a Bell-Boeing news release.
While the contract makes the purchase official, the deal has been in the works for some time. Japan’s ministry of defense announced in 2014 that it would buy 17 Ospreys to expand the humanitarian and disaster relief capabilities of its Ground Self-Defense Force. The State Department in May approved the sale, which could total about $3 billion.
Japan could only afford to buy five aircraft this year, but “we absolutely hope and expect to get those additional 12” in future contracts, Vince Tobin, Bell Helicopter’s program director and vice president of V-22, told sister publication Defense Daily July 15.
The Japanese Ospreys will be very close in configuration to the Marine Corps’ MV-22, with modifications to its communications gear, he said. Bell-Boeing plans on delivering the five aircraft to the U.S. government in 2018, with the V-22s handed off to Japan shortly afterward.
Foreign buyers were likely hesitant to buy the Osprey because of its novelty—it combines a helicopter’s vertical takeoff and landing with the high speeds and long ranges of an airplane. Now that countries have watched its performance over the long term, Bell Boeing expects to see sales of “hundreds” of V-22s, Tobin said.
“I think [after] seeing the utility of the airplane [and] seeing it demonstrated, the countries that may have been taking a little bit of a wait-and-see attitude have now seen what they need to see,” he said.
However, a contract with Israel remains in limbo. The Pentagon notified Congress of a potential six-aircraft sale to the country in 2014.
The contract with Japan follows other good news for the program, namely the Navy’s decision to buy 44 V-22s for the carrier onboard delivery mission. Until recently, only the Marine Corps and Air Force special operators had purchased the two variants of the Osprey, the MV-22 and CV-22.
Formal requirements for the Navy’s V-22s could be issued later this summer, Tobin said.
“We’re doing as many trade studies and trying to lean forward as far as we can to keep the turnaround time as short as possible,” he said.
The companies’ current multi-year contract for Ospreys ends in 2018, but because of aircraft added to the president’s budget this year, Bell-Boeing anticipates inking a third multi-year contract with the military by the end of 2017, said Kristin Robertson, Boeing’s vice president of tiltrotor programs. A request for proposals for those aircraft could be released early 2016.