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Bell’s arguments in Poland’s helicopter programs

MILMAG Defense&Space talking with Joel Best and Andrew P. Woodward about the role Bell wants to play in the Polish Armed Forces’ helicopter programmes.

What future does Bell see for the H-1 family of rotorcrafts? How important will they be in company’s future business operations?

It’s no secret that the United States Marine Corps programme of record has been bought out. We will deliver the programme of record for the Marine Corps in the next couple of years. The good news is, because these aircraft are 85% common, there’s a lot of similarity on the production line. So, the parts that we order, the suppliers that we use, we still have good access to all of them. I won’t go in a great depth on the number of Foreign Military Sales (FMS) opportunities that we have. I can say that there are a number of them globally. The vast majority of the this year are in the Far East, but we’re busy pursuing those opportunities. So, there will be a hot production line for Y and Z, Vipers and Venoms into the foreseeable future, outside the programme of record for the USMC.

Then specifically to your point, the Marines, even though the aircraft will be fielded and fleet, they’ve got a roadmap for all of the future capabilities and upgrades. Their current plan is to operate the fleet of H-1s to 2040’s and beyond. So, buying the Y/Z – type aircraft in the next couple of years for Poland, doesn’t mean that they won’t have the United States government’s backing. Technology is going to be continued to flow into the platform. The Marines look into POM [Program Objective Memorandum – MILMAG] cycle budget for the things that the want to add in. That goes on a 5 to 7 year schedule. So, they know, when they want to roll in future capabilities and the pieces they want to do.

To what extend will Poland be free to work out any future upgrade or modernization projects for their own fleet of H-1 helicopters?

The polonization of the aircraft is something that needs to be discussed also between the USMC but also Bell Engineering, which will be responsible for making sure that everything works. If the Polish Aviation authority wants to integrate something, we as Bell will be involved in that specific polonization of the aircraft.

You wouldn’t want to do something so dramatic, like changing the rotor head, or you’d have to re-certify the airplane. But, systems, weapon systems, sets, kits and outfits that are of interest to the Poles would be something, that would be a three-way partnership between the Polish industry, Bell and USMC for the engineering. So, there’s already a letter of intent that we’ve signed with WZL-1 [Wojskowe Zakłady Lotnicze nr 1, eng. Military Aviation Works No. 1 – MILMAG] for maintenance, repair and overhaul. At this point in time we’ve been told by the leaders that there’s not a lot of interest in Bell coming to Poland and setting up a factory and building helicopters here. Because they have Świdnik [PZL Świdnik – MILMAG] and Mielec [PZL Mielec – MILMAG] and they’re more focused on how will they take on that in the Rzeszów Valey. The bigger issue is making sure that we’ve got the long term security of supply for Poland in the foreseeable future. That’s what we’re already working on with PGZ [Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa, eng. Polish Armaments Group – MILMAG] and WZL-1, and that doesn’t mean them only. Back in 2017 we did a huge industry survey at Radom, and then we did another one in Warsaw. We’ve talked to the whole PGZ family, we’ve talked to a whole host of suppliers, universities, technology firms here in Poland, all of which have opportunities for working with Bell and working on future programmes.

Our Manufacturing Technology Centre is right now establishing a centre, where we can evaluate and burn down the risk on new technologies and production. They are in negotiations, one part of which has been completed, and there’s another negotiation ongoing with a Polish company for equipment that will be used in our future vertical lift programmes and other Bell-related programmes. It’s not only on the military side for the Manufacturing Technology Centre, as it’s also on the civilian side and urban mobilities as well.

Having in mind that Bell is now involved in the Future Vertical Lift programmes, does it mean that the company won’t be working on new generations of the currently operated platforms, like the H-1 family, and all that could be done, are upgrades or modifications of the existing technology?

The good news is that the UH-1Y and AH-1Z are all new aircraft. They’re the newest generation of these aircraft, started in 2009. The ‘Z’ didn’t get on the streets until 2011. Whereas all the other legacy platforms have been around for a long time, since the 1970’s and 80’s, you’re seeing the end of the lifecycle for their upgrades. While we’ve got airplanes, the Y’s and Z’s, that were born essentially in 2010. They’re a decade old and they got a lot of lifecycle in front of them for additive technology. The hard points, the material we use, the rotor system are all state of the art. When you compare our rotor system to anything else out there on the market, nobody else is doing what we’re doing. That technology will fly into the future.

I want to go back and share again, because I think that this is important. There’s no way Poland would be ready for F-35s today, if there were still flying MiG-29s. If you look at the Lockheed Martin and the Polish buy of F-16s, how it thought them the supply chain, training, the technology, all the way in which you support the airplane, which is completely different, that drove in the industry, drove into the military. That’s the knowledge that was necessary to get ready for the future generation fighter. With the AH-1Z and UH-1Y it’s the same kind of process. Because you’re now going to step away from Mi-8s/17s on the utility side and you’re going to step away from Mi-24s on the attack side, and yet you bring in the same kind of construct: a combat multirole in the UH-1Y and attack in the AH-1Z with all the latest capability to go forward.

When you talk about future technology, when you look into the BELL 360 INVICTUS programme, you’ll see that there’s a system called ALE, air-launched effects. It can go right onto of the UH-1Y or AH-1Z. There’s really no reason the systems and sensors can be changed now.

It’s logical to assume that the future technology, like the ALE and other weapons platforms, systems and sensors will be fully integrated. We’d do that with the Polish industry. I know that one of the things that the Poles are very big on is Spike ATGM. I will tell you that USMC in the is also very familiar and interested in Spike. Having a demand signal from the Poles, the Marines will be really happy to hear that and having a foreign customer pushing for that. Poland could be a leader in the AH-1Z – Spike technology.

Which fields of cooperation with the Polish defense industry on the H-1 programme do you see as most promising?

We’ve already been giving guidance that we’re working with PGZ companies, like WZL-1. We’ve been out for that factor many times. We signed a Letter of Intent (LoI) in February. We believe that it could include a grander cooperation. Not only on the military side, but also the commercial side. We’re involved here in all three programmes: Kondor, Kruk and Perkoz.

For many years, Bell has been making a strong point about AH-1Z and UH-1Y significant parts commonality and what does it bring to the operator of these two platforms. However, out of the H-1 family of rotorcrafts, you’re currently offering Poland only the AH-1Z attach helicopter for the Kruk programme. Do you intend to make a bid with Venom in any other Polish helicopter programmes

If AH-1Z were to be selected under the Kruk programme, then it would make a lot of sense for UH-1Y to be selected for Perkoz. With the 85% commonality, that’s in play, that saves you money on logistics, the supply chain behind it, the sustainment or pilot training, as you can train one pilot for both platforms. All of the sudden the case becomes very strong for the UH-1Y Venom, when you got the AH-1Z Viper already working for Kruk.



Article previously published on MILMAG 03/2020


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