U.S. eyes V-22 aircraft sales to Israel, Canada, UAE

Sun Feb 26, 2012 2:34pm EST
 
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By Andrea Shalal-Esa

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Florida (Reuters) - The U.S. government is eyeing Israel, Canada and the United Arab Emirates as possible initial foreign buyers of the V-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotor aircraft built by Boeing Co and Bell Helicopter, a top U.S. Marine Corps official told Reuters.

Lieutenant General Terry Robling, deputy Marine Corps commandant for aviation, said U.S. officials were continuing to drive down the cost of the aircraft and hoped to sell it to allies overseas to keep the production line running past 2018.

U.S. officials plan to show off the aircraft, which flies like an airplane but tilts its rotors to take off and land like helicopter, at the Farnborough Air Show outside London in July. It also made appearances at the Dubai and Singapore air shows in recent months, Robling told Reuters aboard a military aircraft after a Marine Corps event at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron Inc, and Boeing issued a news release in December after the Dubai air show, saying the aircraft had received "significant interest" from potential customers, but it did not identify them.

Boeing and Bell have been trying to generate foreign interest for years, but potential buyers were holding back to see how the plane did in combat, and because of the relatively high price of buying and operating the plane -- both of which are now coming down.

Washington is increasingly looking to foreign military sales to keep the cost of weapons systems from rising as the Pentagon cuts its own orders to strip $487 billion from its planned defense budgets over the next decade.

Robling said Israel, Canada and the UAE had expressed interest in the aircraft, but had not received formal pricing and technical information for the Osprey.

The Marines will ask lawmakers to approve a five-year procurement plan for 91 aircraft that will run through fiscal 2017 -- 24 less than initially planned for the period.   Continued...