WASHINGTON - The U.S. Defense Department has decided to stop buying EADS (IW 1000/59) Lakota helicopters for the Army next year, according to the head of the European aerospace's U.S.-based unit.
"The Lakota is built by a highly skilled workforce, more than half of which are military veterans, at my company's Columbus, Mississippi, helicopter production facility," Sean O'Keefe, chairman and chief executive of EADS North America, said in an opinion article on the Defense News website.
"The Army has decided it's time to end this record of accomplishment next year," O'Keefe said, criticizing the across-the-board "sequester" federal budget cuts imposed by Congress.
"The Pentagon budget would do things such as slash its most successful helicopter program, the UH-72A Lakota, a low-cost program with more than 260 on-time and on-cost deliveries," he said.
The U.S. Army had no one immediately available to comment on the article.
The army and National Guard are looking at other measures to fulfill the mission of the UH-72A, developed by EADS's American Eurocopter facility, the CEO said.
"There are signs that they hope to buy more Black Hawk helicopters down the road or take some returning from Afghanistan and repurpose them for the job, aircraft that cost twice as much to maintain and operate."
The Black Hawk is made by Sikorsky.
The U.S. Army in November 2012 confirmed an option to buy 34 UH-72A Lakotas, a deal valued at $181.8 million, with deliveries expected to begin in September.
The option was part of a major 2006 U.S. Army contract for 347 Lakotas through 2016.
O'Keefe said the Army's decision to wind down the Lakota program "also puts at risk the option of a Lakota variant as the next-generation Armed Aerial Scout."
"This assures that it will keep the inventory of 1960s OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters, which cost three times as much to operate and require constant maintenance."
The Army has been considering replacing its inventory of Kiowa Warrior armed reconnaissance helicopters. EADS's Eurocopter is among several companies interested in snaring the contract.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013