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EADS says Lakota helicopter underpins tanker bid

The UH-72A Lakota helicopter.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Oct 26, 2010
European group EADS hopes its successful helicopter program with the US military will support its bid against Boeing for a major aerial refueling tanker contract, a company spokesman said Tuesday.

EADS North America has been supplying the US Army and Army National Guard with UH-72A Lakota helicopters since 2006, "on time or ahead of schedule, on budget," said Tim Paynter, a spokesman for the EADS North American operation.

The fleet of new, non-combat light utility eurocopters has surpassed its 40,000-flight hour milestone in operational service, the company announced.

To date, 133 Lakotas have been delivered to the army, which plans to buy a total 345 Lakotas through 2015.

"The Lakota program is kind of the underpinning of why we felt that we could successfully -- and justify to the government that we can successfully -- supply this (tanker) program," Paynter told AFP on the sidelines of the Association of the US Army annual convention.

"Because we've been so successful on the Lakota, the government knows that we've got past performance," he added.

Army Colonel Neil Thurgood, project manager of utility helicopters, said at a news conference the US Army was "extremely pleased with EADS."

The Lakota is a "very maneuverable, agile aircraft" that can be modified for several uses and has real-time communications that have proved especially useful in disaster situations, as pilots directly talk to police, Thurgood said.

Airbus, the world's largest aircraft maker and a unit of aerospace giant European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, is locked in a bidding battle with US arch-rival Boeing for the air force aerial refueling tanker contract.

The deal, worth at least 35 billion dollars, will replace 179 of the air force's 1950s era Boeing-built tankers.

EADS North America is offering the KC-45 tanker, an aircraft that is flying and has military certification.

Boeing is competing with the proposed NewGen Tanker, based on the Boeing 767 commercial aircraft.

The Pentagon extended a May deadline for proposals at EADS request after its US partner Northrop Grumman dropped out of the running.

The EADS-Northrop team had won the contract in February 2008, but the deal was canceled after a successful Boeing appeal to the investigative arm of Congress.

"We're in the midst of the interactive process with the air force," Guy Hicks, another EADS North America spokesman, said in a phone interview.

The Pentagon has said it will announce the winner of the hotly contested contract "in the fall," which ends this year on December 20. The decision is expected in November.

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