EH101 Variant Chosen As New ‘Marine Corps One’

A variant of the venerable EH101 (EuroHelicopter 101) medium-lift helicopter, dubbed the US101, has been chosen by the US Navy for it’s next generation presidential transport, traditionally referred to as Marine Corps One. The EH101 was designed in the 1980’s by the British/Italian consortium AgustaWestland and is currently in service with several NATO nations.

Lockheed Martin and Bell Helicopter teamed with AgustaWestland to offer the US101 against a Sikorsky/Boeing team, which was offering a variant of Sikorsky’s S-92, a similar helicopter. The US101 will be partially manufactured in the US by Bell, will incorporate GE engines, a European manufactured drive train and transmission, and British manufactured blades. Various custom avionics will be purchased in the US and integrated by Lockheed Martin.

What a coup for AgustaWestland! You can bet your last Euro-dollar that photos of the EH101 in Marine Corps livery majestically taking flight from the White House lawn are going into their sales brochures tomorrow.

Sikorsky Helicopter had been manufacturing the presidential helicopter fleet since the Eisenhower administration. Losing that prestigious spot had to really, really hurt.

But I can’t say I’m surprised.

The Boeing/Sikorsky team set a new milestone for poor performance last year with the now cancelled RAH-66 Comanche helicopter project. What a fiasco that was. How those companies spent $7 billion and over 20 years ‘in development’ with little more than two prototypes to show for their efforts is beyond me. Apparently, it was finally beyond the understanding of the Army too. It was canceled in 2004. Unbelievable.

According to the Washington Post:

The public campaign for the contract attracted international attention, including personal appeals to President Bush from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Navy said politics did not factor into its decision.

The industry viewed the contract as pivotal in the military helicopter market. The last major competition was in 1991, when a Boeing Co. and Sikorsky team won a contract to build the now-defunct stealth Comanche helicopter.

Industry analysts said Lockheed’s transatlantic team now has the advantage in an Air Force competition, potentially worth up to $10 billion, to build 132 search-and-rescue choppers.

“This decision is all the more unfortunate given the continued atrophy of the United States helicopter industrial base,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “The European helicopter manufacturers already have a commanding position in the global helicopter marketplace.”

Contrary to popular belief, the DOD does take past performance in account when awarding contracts, as well they should. So, both Boeing and Sikorsky take it on the chin again. Those folks better get their act together, or instead of building next generation aircraft for the world market they’ll find themselves building next generation hamburgers. Goodbye fat paychecks, hello food stamps.

On the other hand, the folks at Lockheed Martin are still the undisputed heavyweight champs in advanced aviation technology, even if they are a bunch of Skunks. Let’s hope they keep it up. It’d be nice to have at least one US aerospace company that can hold their own against the Europeans.

9 thoughts on “EH101 Variant Chosen As New ‘Marine Corps One’”

  1. Michael,
    It looks like well-deserved payback for two real allies, Britain and Italy. Bless them both. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    My investment manager couselled me to reduce my holdings in Boeing stock late last year. (I was baffled: Boeing had just received an $800M Missile Defense contract, and increased their dividend.)

    Discussions of “Sky Cars”, the new Air Bus “cattle-car” (all on Chicagoboyz), incontinent jet-fuel prices, chronic problems with the standard big-airline business model, and the incredible growth in private aircraft use in the U.S. all leave me wondering if the shrew isn’t already chewing at the bones of the dinosaurs.

    And that maybe my money guy’s right.

    Just like the PC, so goes our favorite conveyance devices: the smaller, faster, more user-friendly, and customizeable – the better. I think the success of Boeing’s civil aviation business may require it both to deminuitize and personalize its products, and, to avidly evangelize private “Free-Flight” concepts like those embodied in Ken’s January 2th post, “Are Flying Cars Too Dangerous to be permitted?”

    Has danger ever really stood in the way of invention?

  2. Would it be poor form to point out, that the folks at Boeing think the way to win contracts is to hire the children of procurement officers? See, e.g. the tanker scandal. I’d rather deal with a clean (or less scummy) Euro Corp, than a clearly corrupt U.S. corporation. Sure, there’s a strategic problem lurking in there when you rely on a foreign country for your weaponry, but we’re talking the EU here. We’ve no evidence that they are squeamish about selling weapons to anybody…

  3. Al,

    I don’t believe for second that the Euro’s are less likely to indulge in bribery or to be involved in corporate scandals. US and European corporations seem to have similar track records on that score.

    After the Comanche, I suspect the Boeing/Sikorsky team had simply lost all credibility with the DoD. They completely wasted an opportunity to position themselves at the top of helicopter market. They had access to a huge pot of development money, courtesy of the US taxpayer, to design new machinery, avionics and flight control software for their helicopter business. There are many companies that would give anything for an opportunity like that. If they end putting themselves out of the helcopter business, they have only themselves to blame.

    I think the difference is that in Europe they would have gotten contract anyway.

  4. I am a Sikorsky employee as well as a veteran but as an American TAXPAYER I am not only dissappointed but insulted and outraged at the Navy’s descision to hand the next presidential helicopter responsibility to a foreign designed and built manufacturer. No, that is not a misstatement, as anybody who is involved in the making of these type of aircraft can tell you, blade and rotor assemblies are the most flight critical components of helicopters and all manufacturers consider them ‘core technology’. These will NOT be ‘made in the U.S.’ but will come here fully ready to install from Europe. Throughout the year there have been a number of criticisms of Sikorsky and it’s parent corporation (UTC) of taking the popular position of ‘Buy American’ , the implication being that the American product would come out as second best. Even if that were remotely true, shouldn’t the government’s position be to help the country’s manufacturing base, particularly in defense and security, be second to no one? Shouldn’t we, as taxpayer’s, not expect our government to hand over to foerign nations, our ability to secure and defend let alone directly add to the ever increasing exodus of manufacturing from this country? Shouldn’t our government be helping U.S. manufacturers develop and maintain their edge?

    As for the implication that the Sikorsky entry may not be the best, I can only give you a very biased opinion. The proposed aircraft is a direct descendent of the S-92, a ‘Collier Trophy’ winner for it’s significant achievement in aerospace. It is the only helicopter certified world wide to new FAR safety standards. Although it has not as yet acquired an impressive history, it is a child of the ‘Hawk’ line of helicopters whose flight hours is counted in the millions and respected by anybody in aviation. Mechanical and structural problems with the EH101 Cormorant, a forebear of the US101, in use by the Canadian government for search-and-rescue missions, have been reported. Problems with the Cormorant indicated in documents include cracks in the helicopter’s airframe and loose ball bearings, officials said. Canada bought the Cormorants in 1998, when they replaced their own Sikorsky Sea Kings.Furthermore, I am dissapointed, no outraged, that the U.S. Navy made the announcement late on a Friday afternoon with the statement by John J. Young Jr., assistant secretary of the Navy, “… judged more likely to meet a challenging production schedule at a lower cost”. Does the assistant secretary think that Sikorsky is some ‘fly by night’ manufacturer that is incapable of producing 23 helicopters within the next four years? This was nothing short of a denigrating comment and no way to treat a company that has built and maintained the presidential fleet for over 45 years without incident! Shame on the government and shame on the Navy!

    BTW … about the Comanche … Ask how many times the mission profile was changed for that aircaft and you will begin to understand why that program turned into such a SNAFU.

  5. As a Defence Industry Reports Writer researching the helicopter industry. I can see how frustrating it must be as an employee of Sikorsky to have lost the Marine One contract.

    However, whilst the buy American approach may be the best option for US industry this attitude is very hypocritical. European Governments as well as others around the globe are open to purchasing US military equipment but this is not reciprocated.

    Foreign companies find it very difficult to get access to the US defence market because of ‘buy american’ laws. Surely the US should practice what it preaches and not keep its own markets closed whilst forcing others to open theirs to US products?

    The victory for AgustaWestland will not damage US defence and security, it does not matter whether the items produced in Europe are ‘core’ or not. Despite what Americans think, British and Italian policy is unlikely to change with regard to the supply of these parts is guaranteed.

    Britain is procuring Tomahawk cruise missiles for their submarines from the US, the Government does not seem to have concerns about security implications for large important pieces of equipment so why should the Americans get worried over security for every tiny piece of military equipment bought abroad.

    The ‘buy american’ approach was a marketing ploy by Sikorsky in an attempt to use patriotism to get a contract. Neither of the aircraft put forward is particularly superior to the other its just that this strategy failed miserably for Sikorsky. The contract is only for 23 helicopters and therefore is more damaging to Sikorsky’s ego rather than on an industrial production level.

    The ‘buy American’ strategy was in itself hypocritical, even parts of the S-92 would be produced abroad albeit not ‘core’ parts. Over half of the US101 program will be produced in the US by American companies such as Lockheed. A cross channel partnership of this kind is not necessarily a bad thing.

  6. What I don’t understand about the whole issue of S-92 v.s. EH101 deals with why Sikorsky didn’t just manufacture more of its parts in the United States? China? It would be even more of a disgrace if the President himself had to ride is something stamped “Made in China” as are most things in this country anymore. I’m not thrilled with the United States not buying something 100%, but considering the two choices…..Sikorsky has the majority of the blame for designing an inferior product that has “significant components” in country that is far from being an ally. Shame on Sikorsky!

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