Iraq Looking for More Light/Med. Utility Helicopters
On Nov 19/09, the US DSCA announced [PDF] a formal request from the Iraqi government to buy up to 27 light and medium utility helicopters, in a deal whose possible value is set at $1.2 billion. DSCA requests do not constitute a contract, however, and so the final contract could be less.
It could also be delayed, for reasons that go beyond the standard 30-day Congressional blocking period. A drop in global oil prices from their recent $100+/bbl highs has affected Iraq’s budgets, and delayed a number of existing military purchases. This combination of budget issues, and a rigid agreement concerning the end of America’s combat presence in Iraq, has left the Iraqi government in a position where it is unlikely to be able to properly enforce the military mandates it will assume. American and Iraqi personnel have been assessing what is possible by 2011-2012, and what might be done. Prioritization of requests will be especially tight in this environment.
Overall, Iraq’s helicopter fleet is ahead of its fixed-wing fleet, with Mi-17s in the role of medium utility and special forces helicopters, upgraded Bell twin-Hueys in the light utility role, and orders for Eurocopter EC635 light utility and Bell 407 armed scout helicopters in progress. Rather than extending those choices and achieving greater fleet standardization, however, this request opens the door to a new set of competitors.
The Government of Iraq has requested a possible sale in a couple of categories. The Light Utility Observation category already fits the EC635, which reportedly has an option for additional helicopters in the contract. Candidates in the DSCA request include up to:
- 15 of AgustaWestland’s globally popular AW109s; or
- 15 Bell Model 429 Medical Evacuation and Aerial Observation helicopters; or
- 15 EADS North America UH-72A Lakota Light Utility helicopters, which won America’s LUH competition; MEDEVAC is one of their roles.
In the medium utility category, candidates include:
- 12 AgustaWestland AW139 Medium Utility helicopters; or
- 12 Bell Model 412s, which would possess many similarities to Iraq’s less-advanced Huey-IIs; or
- 12 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters equipped with 24 T700-GE-701D engines. The UH-60M is the most modern version of the Black Hawk, and is currently produced for all buyers under a large multi-year American military contract.
Technically, the UH-60M is the only real competitor to the Mi-17 in this set. AgustaWestland classifies the AW139 as an “intermediate” helicopter rather than a “medium” model like the NH90, and that description would fit the Bell 412 as well. The larger question is whether a force like Iraq’s, which is already strapped for cash, should continue to induct new models into its fleet, paying the price in extra spares, training time, and lower interoperability among units.
Note that the DSCA announcement does not say that these helicopters are for the IqAF, but does cite the importance of a “well-equipped and trained military and police/border force patrol authority and counter-terrorism force.” DJ Elliott, who maintains the best public record of the Iraqi military’s Order of Battle, points out that the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior has been considering a helo Squadron for border enforcement and MoI emergency Response Brigade support for over 2 years, and that the 15 helicopter order would allow a 3-helicopter detachment per region over its 5 regions. He believes that the utility helos may be slated for the Emergency Response Brigade, the Ministry of Interior’s high-end special operations force.
Regardless of their final destination, both deals would also include the standard spare and repair parts, publications and technical data, support equipment, personnel training and training equipment, ground support, communications equipment, tools and test equipment, and U.S. Government and contractor provided technical and logistics support. Implementation of this proposed sale will require the assignment of U.S. Government and contractor representatives to Iraq for “an extended period” to assist in the delivery and deployment of the helicopters.
Depending on which platforms win, the principal contractors will be chosen from among:
- AgustaWestland Helicopter Company in Philadelphia, PA
- Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc. in Ft Worth, TX
- EADS North America in Arlington, VA
- Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation in Stratford, CT
- General Electric in Lynn, MA