Helicopter fleet showing its age

Helicopter fleet showing its age

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first delivery of the CH-47 Chinook to the Army fleet, Army Col. Bob Marion, project manager for Army cargo helicopters, ordered his team to find out the fate of the very first Chinook. To his surprise, Marion’s soldiers found the helicopter still in the fleet.

Returned from a recent deployment to Afghanistan, the first Chinook delivered to the Army in 1962 now flies in the Washingtion National Guard. Granted, it has since been upgraded from an Alpha to a Delta model, the Chinook’s longevity serves as an example of both craftsmanship and the Army’s dependence on upgrades rather than new starts to maintain its helicopter fleet.

With that example in mind, the message delivered to the Army aviation community Monday was to expect more of the same. Shrinking budgets mean the Army will have to make do with the fleet it has flown the past decade up to seven-times harder than service officials ever expected.

Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, head of the Army Aviation Center of Excellence, told the soldiers at the Army Aviation Association of America conference here that the aviation branch must remain focused on delivering the Future Vertical Lift program. Crutchfield urged the crowd gathered at the Opryland Hotel to not lose site of the aircraft that he said will revolutionize the Army’s fleet.

Of course, the pilots here will most likely never fly one. Under best case scenarios, the Army wants the Future Vertical Lift aircraft to enter the fleet in 2030.

The austere budget environment has made the word “new start” a rare phrase heard inside the Pentagon. However, the Army can’t continue the repetitive cycle of constantly upgrading legacy aircraft, Crutchfield said.

“The helicopters we have today eventually will be obsolete … no matter how much money we put into them,” Crutchfield said.

Crutchfield can probably hear the murmurs from the armed reconnaissance pilots eager for a replacement to their OH-58 Kiowas. He told the crowd they must all speak with one voice in support of future programs in what seemed to be a message to those expecting a Kiowa replacement to stay on board even if the Army can’t afford one.

As more time passes, the more it looks like the Army is backing away from buying a new Armed Aerial Scout even though they plan to test industry’s entries in June. The dialogue is instead leading toward the likelihood that the Army will pursue a service life extension program.

Aviation officials keep emphasizing how the training and sustainment costs must be considered when buying the Armed Aerial Scout. These are valid costs and will make up the chunk of the price tag over the life of the program. However, Pentagon officials avoid mentioning those costs when they are truly eager to buy something. The phrase “per vehicle cost” is mentioned instead.

That has been the story for the Army aviation community. It had its shot with the Commanche, but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan got in the way. Costs were spiraling and aviation leaders chose to upgrade their legacy fleets instead.

The upgrade mentality, however, has left the Army with 50-year-old helicopters still flying in its fleet.



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When the Comanche finally got the axe, the Army’s aviation community said the exact same thing as this article 10 years ago. It was a great decision. Cancelling the Comanche freed up all that money to upgrade the fleet and get it through this war. Imagine what kind of shape the fleet would be in if we had to support a Comanche fleet AND upgrade everything else.

The Armed Arial Scout is NOT going to happen soon dont know why the author is hoping out of thin air. frankly if they leave out scum like EADS and let American companies bid only and drop the money for a not needed GCV for a new general helicopter for the Army then way to go that makes more sense than a crappy GCV that a Bradly or M-113 can do the same job for. Overall when sequestration hits there be no money for anything maybe JLTV and radios will survive because there joint service program which 3+ services can pool money to save those programs. Overall the Army should mirror the USMC and yes use older style helicopters but make newer version with new airframes. The transition from UH-1N to the new UH-1Y is a prime example of cost saving measure that ensure the Corps has a up to date transport helicopter that’s proven and cheaper than the newest Blackhawk can hope to match in price and speed.

Over since jet rangers are still made for civilian purposes it be better to buy new airframes and install new electronics and sensors to them and make a new OH-58 rather than update older airframes for current Kiowas or waste money on a display of Euro crap that EAD has for this summer which sequestration will kill next year. Overall the BIG army should look to the small USMC for solutions for upgrading ideas.

Sometimes your stupidity just sets new records.

The Army must rely on its rotary fleet to do things the Marines can do with fixed wing hence the greater need, general capabilities, quantity and variety of Army aviation over Marine aviation. The Blackhawk far exceeds the UH1N in lift capability. That’s probably why the Army has conducted more BN size air assaults than Marine units. The OH58 has been improved as far as it’s going to be. New helicopters are cheaper? The CH47 is comparable in almost every way to CH53s and yet is much cheaper. The Marines don’t have a scout helo. Don’t think the army needs to be copying the Marines when it comes to rotary aviation. They’ve been doing fine for quite a long time to the point that whole divisions were heliborne.

You’re a glittering gem of ignorance. Stick to raising targets.

BTW, the Chinook is older than any Marine helo in service.

One of the reasons the Marines never switched to the UH-60 (besides how much they just love the UH-1 for their own valid reasons) is that the UH-1 fits better on an amphib. They’re also used for completely different reasons (Marine One btw is a UH-60).

As for this remark: ‘up to date transport helicopter that’s proven and cheaper than the newest Blackhawk can hope to match in price and speed.”

The UH-1Y goes a whopping 5mph faster than a UH-60M, but has half the range. The UH-60M carries twice as many troops and about twice the cargo weight. Their pricetags are $21.6 million and $21.3 million.

Bell and Sikorsky have been pounding out both airframes almost non-stop for decades. Both have been sold to a dozen countries and built in the thousands. From an economics standpoint, there’s no difference between the two.

The OH-58 hit its design limits years ago. There is no more improving it.

Say what you will about Europeans and the EU, but the fact is EADS have so far delivered the army’s Lakotas on time and on budget. Your tirade against EADS and “Euro crap” is ridiculous.

The the Kiowa worrier has NOT reached it limit given it can have new equipment and senors to give it new life. The Lakota is a slower and less capable than the Kiowa is in performance and many of you are fine just to kick out American workers for giving money for the French. Well that why the nation is doomed with you mentality on that. the fact is your going to have fit when sequestration hits I have a feeling most of you have the new is better mentality and dont mind blowing billions crap that’s isn’t needed.

The USMC had used RF-4s and later F_18 reconnaissance planes for scouting maybe the Army can look into a drones for this and the crappy Lakota isn’t needed. And the USMC Sea Knight is older than the Chinook.

Majrod keep your insults and your ignorance to yourself. You know squat about airpower and your full of it.

Pay attention and learn something about basic engineering. Equipment and sensors take electricity. Electricity requires a generator aka an alternator which requires output from the engine. For new equipment and sensors, that requires more electricity than the current engine produces. On the Kiowa, they can’t give it a better engine for its size and weight allowances and the state of the airframe. That new equipment also produces heat and takes up space which reduces performance. Heat requires air conditioning which takes up more space. The Kiowa has none to spare. It doesn’t need more toys to “give it new life.” It needs the basics to support those new toys first, which isn’t going to happen.

We’re hitting similar problems on the Bradley and Humvee. With all the electrically driven turrets, lights, sirens, radios, satellite uplinks, and counter IED systems we crammed into the humvee we actually managed to suck up every amp it can produce. I reached a point in my fleet where I had to pick and choose which vehicles got which systems to keep the batteries from draining every week.

You just called the F-18 a reconnaissance plane and HE knows squat about airpower. Are you kidding? If you hadn’t noticed, the Kiowa has a lot of firepower on board. Scouting is only one feather in its cap. And once again you’re not paying attention to the basics. That “crappy Lakota” was fielded as a CONUS-based utility helicopter. Whatever it is that EADS is cooking up for its Kiowa-replacement submission has a bigger engine, a different tail rotor, and brand new electronics on the same airframe as the Lakota. It is NOT the Lakota.

He got me on the Sea Knight. Even blind stupid squirrels find a nut on occasion.

He hasn’t figured out that the most advanced OH58, the D model has ZERO space behind the pilots. There’s still room for improvement back there! His brain cage has much in common with the OH58D. Not even enough room for a splinter of common sense.

It’s not getting a lot of press but watch the MD500 entry, AH6i.

The CH53E is bigger, faster,carries more and has longer range. I smell Helo envy!!!

When the FCS program (2003–2009) was beginning to ramp up into some heavy money, the RAH-66 Comanche was cancelled in 2004. A good advanced design was tossed aside because the program management team couldn’t get their act together, and other new programs were hungering over the funding. Five years later in 2009 the FCS was similarly cancelled with little to show for the big money spent.

The Commanche program should have been paused and restructured with a few heads rolled rather than being cancelled. And the money that was thrown away on FCS could have been used to acquire some RAH-66 Comanche. Those could have been useful in Afghanistan, if maybe too late to be useful in Iraq.

Today they should be funding development of Sikorsky’s S-97 Raider.

El Gato, also there will soon be the new and much improved CH-53K. They should be developing an optionally manned CH-54 variant of that.

majrod … Marines don’t currently have a dedicated scout, but Sikorsky was pushing their S-97 raider concept as a possible scout and higher speed escort for the Marine’s MV-22B. Have to first get through the election season and sequestration problems.

Besides cost over-runs, the Comanche was cancelled because it is no more effective or surviveable in the current battlespace than the current platforms. The $10B from the program was effectively used for the RESET program. Now we are transitioning to new programs to extend the service life of existing programs out to 2040 or so. Helicopters delivered so far have far exceeded the Army’s expectations at about 1/3 the cost of the old RECAP programs.

The 58, on the other hand, just has to go. That platform has been taken as far as it can go. No amount of upgrades will change the basic fact that the airframe design limitations have been reached.

What would the Comanche have done in Afghanistan that the Apache hasn’t already done? As I said before, if we bought the Comanche we’d be spending billions buying and maintaining it and trying to find money for the rest of our proven but aging helicopter fleet. When the war started, our helicopter fleet was in exactly the same position it’s in now. The Comanche money was spent putting new engines on the CH-47, fielding a new model of UH-60, and putting a common cockpit electronics in our entire force. But after a decade of war, the same problems are returning but it’d be even worse if we had Comanche added to it.

Both have their uses and have been around since the 1960s. The CH-47 was in the running when the Corps was looking for heavy lift, but it takes up too much room on an amphib (that requirement drives a LOT of USMC acquisitions). Both have gone through multiple upgrades over the decades and their abilities have always pretty much been on par with each other (edge to the –53). The CH-47 has always had better performance at high altitudes, which I guess isn’t much of a requirement for the Corps. It also has a slightly better maintenance record when it comes to rough conditions like the desert. The –53 family has always been classified as “heavy lift” and the –47 as “medium lift.” I think the last “heavy lift” helicopter the Army used was CH-54 Skycrane.

JRT — First it’s the Comanche now it’s the Raider? Unfortunately it’s not about new toys all the time.

You mean EXACTLY what happened with the UH-72 and the overheating issues it suffered until they were forced to stuff it with additional AC units?

Gato — No Envy. The CH53 has a slight edge. It may be a whopping 5 mph faster. It has the same internal capacity as the CH47. It has about a 1500 lbs greater external capability. Unrefueled the CH47 has longer range. Compared against CH47s that have a air to air refuel capability the CH53s advantage disappears. The Ch53k are valued at $120mil each, CH47s cost $35mil in ’08. The 53s are also exponentially more expensive to fly.

JRT — The vendors will always tell you that you need _____. If the Osprey needs an escort Marine Harriers, F18s and eventually F35s would do quite nicely.

Not dinging the Marines decision to not procure a scout helo. Marines don’t mass attack helos like the Army can/does. Then again the Marines have the best and most responsive CAS. I was just making the point that the services have differences and what works for one service doesn’t work for everyone. Some Marine fanboys don’t get it.

Bull the micro sensors and mini computers of today can fit in existing platforms. Other nations have already updated jet rangers and Kiowas and gotten good results.

The S-97 Raider wasn’t on the menu 20 years ago.

It was a couple of decades ago when they decided to develop the RAH-66 Comanche armed scout helo to replace the armed OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. If that had happened, the OH-58D would not still be in service in bad need of replacement.

Since that didn’t happen, they are again looking at replacing the OH-58D. And if they decide to go ahead with that, they will be looking at today’s menu, which is not the same menu that was on the table two decades ago.

So yes, back when RAH-66 was cancelled and the FCS program was ramping up, I would have advocated procurement of the RAH-66 using the money that was eventually burned on FCS. And today, a decade later, I would instead advocate further development of the S-97, toward procurement if the prototypes fly half as well as the PowerPoint variant.

TMB does a good job of explaining where those funds went and what would have happened had we not used it so. I don’t want to be redundant.

oh brother (facepalm)

Exactly, except the UH-72 is brand new and had room for the AC.

A much better bird than the OH-58 is the AH-6I. It is much more maneuverable, faster and can fly in high temps and altitudes. And it’s airframe has been around since the 60’s. It was known as the OH-6. It is still used by the army . As a special ops bird. All the things the Kiowa can’t do. The Kiowa is slow, can’t fly in high temps or altitudes and is underpowered. Here with the 6i, we have an american aircraft that fits the bill perfectly and does not cost that much. About the same as it would cost to build new airframes and R&D the electronics of the 58. The 6i is ready right now for production.

Hear Hear. Much faster, manuverable, can fly in high temps and altitudes and is production ready right now.

What’s the “i” stand for?

Super Tucanos should replace the OH-58s.
Save the Apaches for when you must have rotary, which is only 10 % of the time.
The AF has outlived its usefulness it all it cares about is its own equities.

Not sure, just he next letter in the alphabet? It’s the export version of the MD500 Jordan and Saudi Arabia are purchasing.

I dont think giving up an obsolete 30year old recon helo for one that is obsolete immediately is the best choice for Army Aviation. In the resource constrained budget environment that is coming, Aviation must prioritize. A brand new light attack/recon helo shouldnt be at the top of the priority list.

Problem is the MD500/AH6i isn’t obsolete. Besides it’s shape their is nothing in common between the AH6i and the OH6 from Vietnam. Check out the specs, capabilities and cost of one of the most survivable airframes ever built.

As a 60’s era aviator, I can still recall the fight over the future Army Observation Helicopter buy: the Hughes OH-6 or the Bell OH-58. The little, four-bladed OH-6 was not only more survivable in a crash, it was far more agile and fast. The OH-58 was built by a company partially owned by Lady Bird Johnson — wife of then-President Lyndon B. Johnson. Every pilot that I talked to that had flown both helicopters adamantly proclaimed the OH-6 superior in every way. But the Army wound up with the 58 and we have been trying to put lipstick on this pig for long enough. It is an inferior design and should be replaced, not upgraded, replaced. You have to go no further than our very own Special Forces to see which airframe is relied on for their “little birds” when politics is not part of the acquisition process.

Irrelevant. The role of the light attack helo in Army aviation is whats irrelevant. The Army fields the OH58D in “light attack squadrons” that only exist because the money ran out in the 90’s to completely replace Cobra with Apache. No one pines away for OH58D. Commanders want more heavy attack. The only reason they got KW is because they couldnt afford more Apache (or Comanche). The ‘pink teams’ of Vietnam are history. Current Aviation Brigades were actually broken up for deployment so that they could leave KW home, and take Apache (from completely separate formations) so they could be effective.
Since Aviation was forced to settle for KW, the argument as to which light attack (“recon”) helicopter should replace KW is irrelevant, especially given that the resources will be very constrained in the near future for the whole Aviation portfolio. ECP some better capes (sensors, networking) into the little interim helicopter, and wait for 2030.

Well abandoning the obsolete point is progress.

The next problem is your theory doesn’t work. We have Kiowas because we couldn’t make all the AH1’s AH64’s? Doesn’t follow. Why go to a scout helo that back then didn’t have TOW capability to fly as a scout? Makes more sense to use those Cobras we couldn’t switch over.

You forgot we aren’t going to be fighting insurgents forever & scout helos do more than the pink tms of the Nam era. Check our doctrine on what scouts/light utility helos do, screening, zone/area/route recon, inserting small teams, providing liasion/CDR’s a lift asset, Arty FO & security missions. The fact the OH58D no longer does some of these missions shows how long we’ve gone without (we’ve been overkilling w/UH60s to do what the Kiowa can’t).

Very well said and all quite accurate. I dearly hope common sense reigns

There may be one potential problem with the MD500/AH6i. I understand it takes a little muscle to pull it out of a dive. Might be a PC issue that won’t get a lot of press.

The answer to the first question is that Aviation had decided divest the AH-1 at the time. It might have made sense to keep them, but Aviation wanted them gone. KW was designated an interim aircraft for that role. They didnt buy a bunch of AH6 at that time either, maybe because there were a bunch of OH58 A/C and OH58D (artillery observers, not armed) in the fleet at the time that could be converted. Who knows?

Comment on the second paragraph is that there is no “scout/light utility doctrine” in the Army. The doctrine does not differentiate between Apache and KW, either. Both of those aircraft types are expected to execute those missions. Both of those aircraft can. Thats why we should not do away with KW in order to be replaced by another light aircraft. I would take issue with some of the tasks described above. Attack doctrine does not prescribe for using an attack helo for inserting small teams, or providing liason/CDR’s a lift asset.

Your observation on a light UH/AH vs medium UH is insightful; I think it is what Aviation is getting at with one of their FVL concepts. Interesting that some on this board have argued against an approach like that.

I do not argue that we should do away with KW, merely that we should keep it until FVL comes around. To replace KW with another dedicated light attack is too much resource for not enough payoff, given the near term fiscal reality. It is not an attack on KW, AH-6 or “helo-de-jour”. I’m sure they are swell aircraft.

Your changing your story, “The only reason they got KW is because they couldnt afford more Apache (or Comanche).” Now we decided to get rid of AH1s before the Kiowa decision was made? Not true either. We kept the Kiowas because they fulfilled the scout role vs. being attack helos. KW as used today could be done just as well by the cobra. We lost much of what scout helos do with the KW which happened because of our preoccupation with the Soviet hordes of the time.

Of course attack doctrine doesn’t talk inserting forces or providing lift assets. The mission dropped off when we lost the back seat in the KW. The point is regaining those capabilities. You started your participation promoting a “new” scout helo vs. an “old” solution. Since then you’ve called the AH6i obsolete, said the Kiowa was a replacement for not enough Apache/Comanche when no such link exists (the “A”&“C” models weren’t attack helos, the “D” is) and finally confused “pink teams” with what the scout helo was supposed to be ignoring aviation’s desire to get back to those capabilities.

majrod… i see you are getting educated on aviation helicopters. As i had stated on another blog The AF will pay a little more for there equipment for specialty equipment installed that’s why the CH-53’s cost more and for the type’s of mission.…..this subjects on Army aircraft and not AF or Marine Corp aircraft expense or what they prefer.

Uh, you might want to check yourself. I’m the one stating the specs (not learning them) and the Marine version of the CH53 is the one I’m cited for costs. I’m familiar with why spec ops aircraft cost more and have different specs. Of course they are pricier. I’m not even looking at the MH47s.

I see.…but why on the CH-53? I thought the Army wanted the MH-47 which they do have? with the air refueling capabilities and up-graded avionics package.

Ted I think you’re talking apples and oranges. Super Tucanos have no VTOL capability and almost no helicopter is capable of delivering bombs. I say “almost”, because CH-54s were used to drop Daisy-Cutters in Vietnam and even had Norton bomb sights.
Our ground troops need battlefield mobility that only small rotary wing aircraft can provide. They also need Close Air Support in a broad spectrum of capabilities and response times. When facing an enemy force that requires more than what a team of Apaches can provide, it’s time to put a call in for Air Force CAS. Having been in that position in Vietnam, I know that you want that support twenty minutes ago. Once the F-4s finished, a savvy Forward Air Controller or FAC would have a already put in a call for a flight of A-1 Skyraiders.
I’m not up to speed on the Super Tucano specs, but the Korean War vintage A-1E cruised in at 200 mph, carrying its own weight (17,000 lbs.) in bombs and rockets arranged on 18 hard points. Danger-close to an F-4 was the A-1s bread and butter. Most significant, was the A-1s ability to loiter. Long after the F-4s headed home for fuel, the A-1s would leisurely orbit overhead waiting for the situation on the ground to develop.
I’ll try to sum up: we need a variety of rotary wing aircraft from armed observation to attack, utility and cargo. The Army needs Air Force CAS, but it needn’t be a fleet composed of just F-35s. The CAS mission can and should be shared by quick-reacting-jet aircraft and a much less-expensive aircraft capable of bringing a large load to the fight and then hanging around to be ready to respond to the ground commander’s needs.

Spec ops needs the unique capabilities of the MH47 and MH60. CH47s and UH60’s are fine for the conventional force. It’s a big Army and remember the Army has more aircraft than the whole air force. One has to cut cost where it can.

I agree but it is a real shame that the cuts will effect the next war effort. Maybe feasible that majority of the states buy dozen or so strip down version of CH-47s and UH-60’s for firefighting or natural disasters, will help out in the economy for a seasonal job for vet’s so the Army can purchase the MH47 and MH60


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