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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Joint is the Only Way Forward

By Andrew Drwiega

The transformation that no military wants, yet financial restraint is pushing everyone inexorably toward, is now upon us. Multi-role must now be the way forward. Not because it is better, but because it is rapidly becoming the only financially acceptable choice.

Collaboration is a vital part of competition in terms of winning defense contracts. This is already part of the fabric around the procurement game—if you don’t win with one partner, ‘switch horses’ and ride with the more likely winner in the next race, or the same race if it is re-run (CSAR-X, SAR-H, Armed Aerial Scout, Presidential helicopter, etc).

There are no friendships and cozy alliances in the current climate—just the need to keep winning business.

But the lack of development money is making it increasingly likely that the larger OEMs are going to have to find ways of collaborating together. There needs to be a fundamental step-change in corporate thinking which, incidentally, is also going to have to be mirrored throughout each arm of the military—Army, Navy and Air Force.

 
AVX Joint Multi-Role transport — AVX Aircraft Company
Like it or not, individuality of asset is going to have to make way for multi-role and generalization. The trend has already been going for two decades if not longer. Military forces around the world have been reducing the number of types owned to save money.

Now that is going to come down to the unified procurement across national forces, and eventually across alliances.

The challenge for each section of the military is to break with tradition. The sooner the realization hits that its assets, in our case helicopters, are going to have to be joint—the sooner real progress can be made in research and development.

Better to be in the game early and shape the future rather than be a late adopter and get what you are given (does that apply to the British position towards a financially integrated Europe? I digress).

It is difficult to see how resistance to the concept of a Joint Multi-Role (JMR) helicopter from all branches of the United States military will be able to continue in the face of financial austerity in defense. With initial contracts already being awarded to Bell/Boeing, Boeing, Sikorsky and AVX to pursue the U.S. Army’s quest for further analysis into the program, it must surely now be in the interest of industry to cooperate more closely as the cost is certainly going to be high, almost certainly beyond the financial risk-taking of any one industrial heavyweight.

Industry should take a moment to stand back and look towards the ‘end game’ of this process and familiarize itself with ‘the bigger picture’ that would likely result from such a development.

If a family of rotorcraft (light, medium, heavy and ultra-heavy) can be conceived, sold at a fair price, and put into production for procurement across the U.S. military at some point in the future, the prospects of a widespread and previously unmatched buy-in from international military customers looking to standardize on platforms to keep in step with the U.S. military is likely to be unprecedented.

But to do this the rotorcraft industry is going to have to think of itself more as a semi-cohesive unit, sharing some of the challenges, so that everybody who participates will win a slice of the pie.

This is going to result in uncomfortable unions at first, but the restrained financial conditions of the global economy seem to offer little choice over the coming years. Make no mistake, the ‘good old days’ have gone.

The challenge ahead is for the rotorcraft industry and the military customer to think beyond the usual limited horizons of tradition and alter the dynamic to forge future potential.

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