European Aeronautic Defence & Space said it will bid for the U.S. army's new Light Utility Helicopter competition as a prime contractor...

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European Aeronautic Defence & Space said it will bid for the U.S. army’s new Light Utility Helicopter competition as a prime contractor.

The Netherlands-based company, the majority owner of Airbus, said Wednesday that it will offer the UH-145, a version of its EC-145 popular twin-engine civilian helicopter. It will have “significant” U.S.-made content to satisfy the constraints of the Bush administration’s policy of favoring home-grown companies for defense contracts.

The decision to tender for the helicopter contract as a prime contractor marks a significant milestone for EADS, which had been expected to team up with a U.S. defense company to improve its chances. Northrop Grumman had been one of the companies mentioned as a possible partner.

EADS is eager to carve itself a slice of the U.S. defense-procurement market, believed to be worth more than $70 billion a year.

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The competition, due to be decided by the end of April, includes Textron’s Bell Helicopter unit and Lockheed Martin, which has teamed with MD Helicopters.

The U.S. Army requires a total of 322 helicopters in the contract that’s worth between $1.3 billion and $1.5 billion. The U.S. Defense Department will pick a winner at the end of April next year. Deliveries will start in September 2006.

The UH-145 would be made in the United States by American Eurocopter, the U.S. unit of Eurocopter, EADS’s wholly owned helicopter subsidiary.

EADS North America head Ralph Crosby said in a conference call that no decision has been made so far on where the UH-145 would be built. American Eurocopter has facilities in Grand Prairie, Texas, and Columbus, Miss. “But wherever we do it, it will require some investment in infrastructure,” Crosby said.

The decision to go it alone was driven by a number of factors, Crosby said, notably that the U.S. Army’s specifications call for a lightly militarized version of an off-the-shelf civilian helicopter.

The UH-145, based on an existing model, “is available, it’s a market leader, and militarization is minimal,” Crosby said. He added that the UH-145 will meet or exceed all the Army’s speed, range, endurance and performance specifications.

Crosby said American Eurocopter is teaming up with U.S. suppliers such as Honeywell and Goodrich.

Meanwhile, EADS is negotiating to make Northrop Grumman the prime contractor for its bid against Boeing to supply tens of billions of dollars of aerial refueling aircraft to the U.S. Air Force.

Crosby, in reply to a question, said EADS’s decision to offer itself as prime contractor for the helicopters did not imply it might try to go it alone for the refueling aircraft if talks with Northrop failed.

“It just turns out that we tailor our response to fit the particular opportunity,” he said. Guy Hicks, an EADS North America spokesman, added in a follow-up call that EADS intends to join with a “strong American team” to offer the Airbus KC-330 to the Air Force as a tanker.

Compiled from Dow Jones Newswires, The Associated Press and Reuters