EADS North America chairman and chief executive Sean O’Keefe was quoted by Defense News as saying that the decision to scrap the US Army’s most successful helicopter programme follows across-the-board ‘sequester’ budget cuts imposed by the federal government.
The army and the National Guard are currently exploring other options to fulfil duties of the UH-72A Lakotas, which may possibly include procurement of additional UH-60 Black Hawk multi-mission helicopters, O’Keefe added.
"There are signs that they hope to buy more Black Hawk helicopters down the road or take some returning from Afghanistan and repurpose them for the job, aircraft that cost twice as much to maintain and operate," he said.
As of April, EADS North America had handed over 250 UH-72A Lakotas to the army, having originally intended to acquire a total of 347 of the helicopters under a defence acquisition category (ACAT) I programme by 2016.
Thirty four helicopters were ordered by the army under a $181.8m contract in November 2012, and deliveries are scheduled to start in September.
Cancellation of Lakota programme also threatens an armed Lakota variant, EC645, which is being offered by the company for the army’s next-generation armed aerial scout (AAS) OH-58D Kiowa Warrior replacement programme, O’Keefe stated.
"This assures that it will keep the inventory of 1960s OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters, which cost three times as much to operate and require constant maintenance," O’Keefe added.
Manufactured at the company’s American Eurocopter facility in Columbus, Mississippi, the twin-engine Lakota helicopters are used for medical evacuations, search-and-rescue, homeland security, VIP transport, disaster response and relief, combat flight training and pilot sustainment training missions.
Image: A UH-72A Lakota helicopter during its flight. Photo: © EADS North America.