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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Rotorcraft Report: Iraq Opts for the 407

MILITARY | ATTACK

In February, Bell Helicopter delivered three commercial Bell 407s to the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., which will militarize them for the Iraqi Air Force. If testing of the modifications the Army makes to the lightweight, four-bladed aircraft goes well, the $7-million, sole-source contract is to be followed by a sale to Iraq of an additional 24 militarized Bell 407s beginning in 2011. Bell and the Army were still negotiating the terms of that deal as this edition of R&W went to press.

The Army plans to add weapons, survivability gear and sensors to Iraq’s 407s so they can fly armed reconnaissance missions following the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq ordered by President Obama. An aviation command spokesman said the list of weaponry and sensors to be added to the Iraqi 407s wasn’t yet final.

The Army previously planned to buy 512 Bell 407s and militarize them as its own armed reconnaissance helicopter but cancelled that $2.2 billion contract last year in the face of cost and schedule overruns. The gear the Army planned to put on its ARH-70As was far more complex than that to be added to Iraq’s 407s. The ARH-70A was to include a more powerful engine, for example, and sophisticated sensors and targeting equipment still being developed or refined.

Bell’s new contract was awarded sole-source rather than being put out for bids because the Iraqi Air Force specifically requested the 407, an aviation command spokesman said. The Iraqi Air Force already owns a small number of Bell UH-1H Hueys and Bell JetRangers. —By Rick Whittle

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