Vertical Integration

By Jason Sherman / August 11, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Defense industry executives from six competing firms have joined voices in a bid to remind Defense Secretary Robert Gates of his commitment last year to a sweeping assessment of the U.S. military's vertical-lift needs.

In a July 25 letter to Gates -- which was coordinated by Rhett Flater, executive director of the American Helicopter Society International -- the six executives use a soft touch to prompt the secretary about his 2008 pledge, which is to say, they register no explicit request.

We would like to express our strong support for your DOD Future Vertical Lift initiative to develop a joint approach to the future development of vertical lift aircraft for all the military services.

It's not every day that executives from competing defense firms lend their signature to a common letter. But they all clearly would like the Pentagon to package a new competition for a multibillion dollar helicopter program.

Signing the letter along with Flater are: Richard Millman, president and CEO of Bell Helicopter Textron; Jeffrey Pino, president and CEO of Sikorsky Aircraft; Philip Dunford, vice president and general manager of Boeing's rotorcraft systems; Scott Rettig, president and CEO of AgustaWestland; David Oliver, chief operating officer, EADS North America; and Marillyn Hewson, president and CEO of Lockheed Martin Systems Integration.

Last May, Gates directed the Pentagon’s acquisition shop to spearhead a comprehensive review of the U.S. military’s rotorcraft needs. He directed a two-year assessment that was expected to influence the requirements for a joint heavy lift aircraft and a joint multirole helicopter for future reconnaissance and attack missions, according to industry officials. The executives, in their letter, recap their hopes for this effort:

We believe that this initiative, consisting of (a) common requirements definition via a Capabilities Based Assessment; (b) early integration of the Science and Technology community to define the technological art of the possible and to reduce risk; and (c) a Joint Strategic Plan identifying the path ahead to develop and field new capabilities, shows the potential to be an unusually successful approach to support current and future warfighters. We also view it as identifying a clear way ahead for the Department of Defense and for the vertical flight industry. It will allow us to conduct informed industry research and engineering and to be better able to focus precious Independent Research and Development resources on DOD’s areas of greatest need. We believe the integrated approach of your Future Vertical Lift initiative will allow the development, maturation and fielding of truly Joint, revolutionary capabilities more quickly and at less cost to the Government.