EADS partners with Lockheed on recon helicopter

EADS North America on Monday announced that it has partnered with Lockheed Martin to vie for a contract to build an armed reconnaissance helicopter for the Army.

As part of the arrangement, Lockheed, the top U.S. defense contractor, will be a subcontractor to EADS, the American arm of the European defense and aerospace conglomerate.

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The EADS-Lockheed team is shopping around an armed version of the Light Utility Helicopter, which EADS is already under contract to build for the Army. American Eurocopter, also a unit of EADS, will build the armed scout helicopter in Columbus, Miss.  Lockheed Martin’s Fire and Missile Control unit in Orlando, Fla., will be outfitting the aircraft with weapons and other systems.

EADS and Lockheed are not the only companies gearing up for a potential $6 billion contract. Boeing and Agusta Westland are also expected to make a move for the contract, according to industry sources.

Last year, the Pentagon canceled the Army’s contract with Bell Helicopter for the armed reconnaissance helicopter after costs ran substantially over budget. The Army and the Pentagon are still trying to figure out how to move ahead with the much-needed helicopter. The Army is also conducting an analysis of alternatives for its much-needed reconnaissance helicopter. As a result, the competition to win the contract is likely to be put off until fiscal 2011.

The Army has repeatedly said it needs to replace its war-worn OH-58 Kiowa Warriors, the oldest and most-used Army helicopter in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army is pouring money into making the Kiowa Warrior more reliable so that the fleet can operate safely until at least 2010.

The Army also has decided to upgrade all of its remaining old models of the Apache attack helicopter into the more capable Apache Longbow model to fill the gaps, particularly in the Army National Guard, left by the cancellation of the armed reconnaissance helicopter program. Four National Guard battalions that were supposed to receive the armed reconnaissance helicopter now will receive the Apache Longbow.