Politics & Government

Helicopter industry leaders want U.S. to fund R&D

GRAPEVINE — The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown the value of helicopters to the armed forces, but leaders of the U.S. helicopter industry say too little is being done to develop new, better aircraft.

Top executives of the major manufacturers, speaking Wednesday at the annual forum of the American Helicopter Society at the Gaylord Texan resort, said they're working on technological innovations but want the U.S. government to fund more research and development.

Sikorsky Aircraft President Jeff Pino noted that while troops in Iraq and Afghanistan rely on helicopters, aircraft now being used to carry supplies and evacuate wounded soldiers are mostly upgraded versions of older models.

Senior Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have said that buying new helicopters and modernizing existing ones, maintaining and upgrading aircraft, and training more pilots and maintenance crews are high priorities.

The newest rotorcraft in the U.S. military arsenal is the V-22 Osprey, which is based on 1980s technology. The last major new military helicopter program, the Army's Comanche, was canceled in 2004. Even new adaptations of existing aircraft, such as Bell's ill-fated armed reconnaissance helicopter and the next Marine One presidential helicopter have been canceled because of technical and cost issues.

Phil Dunford, vice president and general manager of Boeing's helicopter division, said Army funding for helicopter research and technology development has declined steadily since 1984.

"We've spent more money on the F-35 than on all the helicopter development programs in the last 30 years," Dunford said, referencing Lockheed Martin's joint strike fighter.

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