When the Army's new light attack helicopter -- a mean machine with more killing power than the typical World War II bomber -- takes to the sky for the first time, it will carry some of the latest technology available from two of Maryland's largest defense contractors.
Martin Marietta Corp. and the local division of the Westinghouse Electric Corp. have been selected to supply major components to the tank-killer helicopter that is being designed to outmaneuver any chopper used in the Persian Gulf war. The new light helicopter is scheduled for its first flight in 1993. Full-scale production is scheduled to begin three years later.
Westinghouse's Electronic Systems Group has been selected for the development of a computer system that is to serve as the avionics or "electronic brains" of the Army's new light attack helicopter, or LH in military terminology.
James Reinhard, a Westinghouse spokesman, said yesterday that the initial award is for the development of the electronic equipment and the production of six systems for use in prototype helicopters. The contract is expected to exceed $100 million.
But this could be just the beginning. Assuming the Army buys the planned production run of 1,292 helicopters, Mr. Reinhard said he could "conservatively estimate" that Westinghouse would pick up "$500 million plus" in new work.
Martin Marietta has a contract that is expected to exceed $1 billion to provide night-vision and target-detection systems for the craft.
Linthicum-based Westinghouse and Bethesda-based Martin are both partners of a corporate team headed by Boeing Helicopters Co., a unit of Boeing Co., and Sikorsky Aircraft, which is owned by United Technologies Corp. The team was selected by the Army last week as the prime contractor for its new $33 billion helicopter program.
Robert Torgerson, a spokesman for Boeing Helicopters Co. in Philadelphia, said the LH eventually will replace the Cobra attack helicopters that were used in the Persian Gulf. He said LH is designed as a tank-killer craft that would operate in conjunction with the larger Apache attack helicopters that were used in the war.
Westinghouse also is developing the LH software to detect and classify targets. In addition, it is working closely with Martin Marietta and Boeing Helicopters to develop the system that will allow the copter's weapons to lock onto a target.
The Westinghouse equipment uses high-speed computers that take massive amounts of information from the helicopter's radar and other electronic sensors, sort through it and provide the pilot with target information almost instantaneously.
Westinghouse is working with Cleveland-based TRW Inc. for the development of the other electronic equipment, such as a radar-evading system, intended to increase the LH's chances of surviving missions over enemy territory.
Westinghouse said that the new contract will have no immediate impact on employment at its Electronic Systems Group, based near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, since most of the work will be carried out by existing engineering personnel. The company said that the impact on employment when LH production begins in 1996 will depend on the overall workload of the group at that time.
One of the more noticeable features of the new LH is the change in the traditional tail rotor. The manufacturers claim the new, odd-looking design provides a rock-steady weapons platform in crosswinds and permits quick maneuvers and split-second hover turns.
The new design is also expected to allow the craft to perform sideward flights at three times the speed of light helicopters now used by the military.
The bulk of the work on Martin Marietta's contribution to the new craft will be performed at its Electronics Systems Division in Orlando, Fla. The company estimates that 300 people will be involved in the development stage of the program.
The Boeing-Sikorsky team was competing with another composed of McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co., based in Mesa Ariz., and Bell Helicopter Textron, based in Fort Worth, Texas.
Reuters reported last week that the Army originally planned to acquire 2,096 of the new aircraft, but Defense Secretary Dick Cheney cut back the program in August to save nearly $8 billion.
Mr. Cheney said last year that the light helicopter was needed despite better East-West relations and the reduced chances of war with the Soviet Union. But he said the Army would purchase only 120 a year instead of the 216 originally planned.