Army helicopter upgrades on pace

WASHINGTON The Apache AH-64 D Longbow Block III helicopter upgrade is on pace for eventual deployment in the next few years, with upgrades planned for the UH-60M Black Hawk and Kiowa Warrior – the armed version of the OH-58D helicopter, said U.S. Army aviation officials at the Association of U.S. Army (AUSA) annual meeting in Washington last month.

By John McHale

WASHINGTON The Apache AH-64 D Longbow Block III helicopter upgrade is on pace for eventual deployment in the next few years, with upgrades planned for the UH-60M Black Hawk and Kiowa Warrior – the armed version of the OH-58D helicopter, said U.S. Army aviation officials at the Association of U.S. Army (AUSA) annual meeting in Washington last month.

"Just as everyone else we are waiting to see how the new administration will respond to funding for Army aviation," but these programs are moving along on schedule, said Paul Bogosian, program executive officer for U.S. Army Aviation at Ft. Rucker, Ga.

"The Apache Block III made its first flight in July" and is continuing on schedule, Bogosian said, Many parts of the aircraft are being upgraded including its avionics, he added.

Bogosian made his remarks during a press briefing on Army Aviation at AUSA. Joining him in the briefing were Brig. Gen. James Barclay, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general; Maj. Gen. James Myles, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command commanding general; and Brig. Gen Walter Davis, director of Army aviation.

The biggest concern in any avionics upgrade is dealing with obsolescence issues that come with using today's electronic components, Bogosian continued. The Apache systems are being designed with an open architecture to help manage component lifecycles and costs, he added.

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems is the prime contractor for the Apache Block III program. According to their website the new technologies in the upgrade include: improved fire control radar enhancements; radar frequency interferometer enhancements, flexible digital communication; cognitive decision aiding equipment; automated parts identification; embedded diagnostics; and UAV connectivity.

Barclay stressed that connectivity with unmanned systems is of immense importance to future Army Aviation operations. "manned/unmanned technology is critical to how we fight in future," he said. "It is a combination of both capabilities that will make a difference" on the battlefield, Barclay added.

The use of UAVs will reduce the time from sensor to shooter, Myles noted. The video and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) data provided by UAVs, creates a tremendous advantage for the warfighter, he added.

Myles said that manned and unmanned systems work much better together than apart and unmanned systems will not make manned platforms obsolete.

Other manned helicopter platforms refreshed periodically or in earlier stages of a major retrofit are the Black Hawk UH 60M Sikorsky in Shelton, Conn., and the Kiowa Warrior from Bell Helicopter in Ft. Worth, Texas, Bogosian says.

Officials at Sikorsky announced that the UH-60M upgrade made its first flight in September.

According to the Sikorsky release technologies for the Black Hawk upgrade include: a fly-by-wire flight control system that incorporates active stick technology and dual channel – triple redundant flight control computers; a glass cockpit with the Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS), and a fully authorized digital engine control (FADEC). The UH-60M Upgrade is currently the only fly-by-wire rotary wing aircraft in flight test, company officials say.

The Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, produced by Bell Helicopter, was slated to replace the aging Kiowa Warrior. Bogosian and his colleagues said that they were waiting for a decision from the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) on the future of the program.

It was having major cost overruns and other financial and production issues, making its future uncertain, Barclay said.

ARH capability is needed to relieve pressure on the Kiowa Warrior, Barclay continued. Whether or not the ARH program is canceled, the requirement will not go away, he added.

If the OSD does not reconsider, there are other alternatives such as a major upgrade of the Kiowa Warrior, Bogosian said.

One week after the press conference they got their answer. Department of Defense (DOD) officials announced on 16 Oct. that they were canceling the ARH program.

According to an Army release the ARH contract was awarded for an expected development cost of $359 million and a procurement average unit cost of $8.56 million. However, DOD officials said they estimate development expenses have escalated to $942 million with a procurement average unit cost of about $14.48 million. ARH delivery was also pushed out 4 years from 2009 to 2013.

"The cost and schedule that were the focus of the decision to award the contract to Bell Helicopter are no longer valid," Secretary of the Army Pete Geren said in the release. "We have a duty to the Army and the taxpayer to move ahead with an alternative course of action to meet this critical capability for our soldiers at the best price and as soon as possible."

Lt. Gen. James D. Thurman, Army director of operations, echoed the comments made in the AUSA press briefing when he said in the ARH release "the war-fighting capability for a manned, armed, reconnaissance helicopter is crucial to supporting our ground combat commanders and remains a critical requirement for the Army. This decision does not, in any way, diminish the imperative for this capability. Our operational tempo, attrition, and losses of six aircraft per year underscore the need to fill this requirement as quickly as possible.

"To this end, we will rapidly pursue a re-validation of the particular characteristics needed for this capability so that we can restart the process of acquiring a manned, armed reconnaissance helicopter," Thurman continued in the release. "Concurrently, we will invest significant efforts into our existing Kiowa Warrior fleet that ensures our air crews and commanders continue to have the best capability possible to perform the mission"

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