Aircraft fleet modernization gains momentum.
"Army aviation has completed four years of continuous combat operations," said the director of Army aviation, Brig. Gen. Stephen D. Mundt. "During this time, we have flown more than one million hours on our manned and unmanned aircraft systems."
As part of its so-called "reset" program, the Army is repairing any battle or crash damage that the aircraft might have incurred. It also is providing them with the latest aircraft survivability equipment, including anti-aircraft missile detectors, jammers and chaff and flare countermeasure devices.
At the Corpus Christi Army Depot, in Texas, the service has a $275 million contract with Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., of Stratford Conn., to overhaul existing Black Hawks. The Army also is buying new copies of the latest version of the Black Hawk, the UH-60M.
The Boeing Co., of Chicago, is upgrading the Chinooks to either the CH-47F or the MH-47G special operations configuration. That work is being performed at Boeing's helicopter factory in Ridley Park, Pa., as part of a 2003 contract worth up to $140 million.
Boeing also is refurbishing Apaches at its facility in Mesa, Ariz., under a 2005 contract worth as much as $41.5 million. The Apache program aims to return aircraft to service within 60 days.
The rate of production for the common missile warning system and improved countermeasure dispenser has been doubled, Mundt noted. This system--being installed on Apaches, Black Hawks and Chinooks--automatically detects an incoming missile and dispenses the appropriate countermeasure, removing the pilot in the loop.
"We "also have installed ballistic armor aircraft protection systems on the UH-60 and CH-47 aircraft, and blue force tracking on the AH-64, UH-60 and CH-47," Mundt said.
In November, the Army's Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command awarded Westar Aerospace & Defense Group Inc., of St. Louis, a $2.7 million contract to install information-management technology at nine reset sites across the United States and in Germany. This system is designed to provide commanders and aviation support personnel with improved access to readiness and logistics-management information, said Steve Waiters, Westar's vice president for technology development.
The service is remanufacturing 300 of its existing 431 CH-47D Chinook helicopters into a new generation known as the CH-47F. The Chinook is the Army's only heavy lift cargo rotorcraft capable of moving payloads greater than 9,000 pounds. The latest version can transport 33 troops or 24 first-aid litters, plus its crew of three. It also can carry 26,000 pounds slung from a center hook underneath its belly, 17,000 pounds from a forward hook or 25,000 pounds using both hooks in tandem.
The CH-47F will feature a digital cockpit that permits installation of enhanced communications and navigation equipment. The same cockpit will be used in the MH-47G special operations Chinook and the HH-47 proposed for the Air Force combat search and rescue program.
Airframe structural modifications will reduce vibrations, lower operational and support costs, and improve crew endurance. Additional airframe alterations will provide a 60 percent reduction in the time required to tear down or build up the aircraft after it is deployed on a C-5 or C-17 transport.
The rebuilt Chinook also is getting more powerful Honeywell T55-GA-714A engines that improve fuel efficiency and enhance lift performance by 3,900 pounds.
Boeing ,also is remanufacturing its two decade-old AH-64A Apaches and their follow-ons, the AH-64D Longbows, some of which are approaching their first decade of life. The work involves cleaning and repair of all components, including damaged and crash parts, and complete testing when maintenance is finished.
The Army, meanwhile, still is buying new Longbows. In August, it received its 501st aircraft. "Follow-on orders for new and remanufactured Apache Longbows and the looming Block III effort for the Army mean continued production and support for the Apache for years to come," said Al Winn, vice president of Apache programs at the Apache rotorcraft facility in Mesa.
At Corpus Christi, Sikorsky is helping the Army to restore its three-decade UH-60A Black Hawks. That work involves repairing and overhauling transmissions, main and tail rotor blades and spindles.
Sikorsky is teaming with the depot to provide service support, including aircraft crash repair kits, inventory management, line support and other services. Corpus Christi, the Army's only depot-level maintenance facility, specializes in overhauling and repairing the service's aircraft.
In July 2006, Sikorsky rolled out its first production-model UH-60M. The company is developing the UH-60M under a series of contracts dating back to 2001. It received three totaling more than $430 million in January 2006 alone.
Currently, the UH-60M is in operational testing and evaluation. Once that phase is completed, the Army plans to equip a combat unit with the aircraft. Eventually, it plans procure 1,200 or more of them, replacing older generations of Black Hawks.
The UH-60M provides additional payload and range, advanced digital avionics, easier handling capabilities, active vibration control, improved survivability and high-speed machined parts. Its new composite spar, wide-chord blade provides 500 pounds more lift than the current UH-60L blade. An advanced General Electric T700-GE-701D engine will add more shaft horsepower and allow additional lift during external lift operations.
The cockpit includes multi-function displays, flight-management systems, modern flight-control computers with a fully coupled autopilot, an integrated vehicle health-management system with flight data and cockpit voice recorder, inertial navigation systems with embedded global positioning systems, improved data modem and redesigned heads-up displays. A narrower cockpit instrument panel also improves chin window visibility.
In June 2006, the Army chose the UH- 145 military helicopter, to be built by the Euro-copter Group, as its next-generation light utility helicopter. The service plans eventually to procure 322 of the aircraft at a cost of more than $2 billion. It was the first U.S. military contract for Eurocopter, a division of EADS, a European aerospace and defense manufacturer.
The UH-145 is a variant of the EC145 multi-mission helicopter, which is used worldwide for law enforcement, emergency medical evacuation, search and rescue, offshore and utility operations and corporate transportation. It is intended to help replace the Army's Vietnam-era UH-1H Huey multi-mission chopper and the 15-year-old Kiowa Warrior.
During the following month, the Bell ARH-70, an armed reconnaissance helicopter, completed its first two flights. In 2005, the Army had awarded Bell Helicopter, of Fort Worth, Texas, a $2.2 billion contract to build 368 ARH-70s between 2006 and 2013, to help fill the Kiowa Warrior's role in reconnaissance and attack missions.
The ARH-70 is a militarized version of Bell's 407 single-engine light helicopter. It is designed to provide enhanced abilities to conduct reconnaissance and light attack flights.
The ARH-70 is equipped with an array of weapons, including a 2,000-round-per-minute Gatling gun, 2.75-inch rockets and Hellfire missiles. It has state-of-the-art, glass cockpit avionics and operates day and night in limited weather environments.
The 2007 defense appropriation included $72 million for the Army to buy two joint cargo aircraft to begin replacing its small transports. The service expects to award a contract in February or March, Mundt said.
The Army and the Air Force have agreed they need a total of 145 of the aircraft, which are needed to deliver small amounts of troops and cargo to and from relatively short, unimproved airfields, he explained. The Army, which will get 75 of them, plans to begin fielding in 2008. The Air Force will claim the remaining 70 starting two years later.
Leading contenders for the contract include EADS' CASA 295 and Alenia Aeronautica North America's C-27J Spartan.
Army aviation modernization efforts also include unmanned aircraft, Mundt said. "The Army uses unmanned aircraft systems from platoon through corps levels, most operation by enlisted soldiers and most focused at the tactical level."
The service employs three types of unmanned aircraft, the small Raven, the tactical Shadow and the extended-range, multi-purpose Warrior. A total of 34 Shadows and 376 Ravens have been fielded. "More than 300 of these systems are currently in operation in Iraq and Afghanistan," Mundt said. They have flown more than 83,000 hours in support of combat operations, identifying and targeting enemy positions.
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RELATED ARTICLE: A year at war: one million pieces of damaged equipment.
REPAIRS OF WORN-OUT AND WAR-DAMAGED ARMY EQUIPMENT ARE certain to remain a $13 billion to $15 billion-a-year business--if not higher--for the foreseeable future.
In 2007 alone, the Army will repair an unprecedented one million pieces of combat hardware--including combat vehicles, aircraft, trucks, missiles, communications gear, electronics, artillery, small arms and assorted support equipment, according to estimates provided by the Army.
Of the one million pieces of equipment, the largest share is made up of combat vehicles and vehicular components (267,000), communications and electronics equipment (360,000) and logistics support gear for ground forces (172,000).
A single combat brigade on average operates 320,000 different pieces of equipment.
Most of the repair work, or about 90 percent, is done by the Army's own maintenance units in forward-deployed installations and bases stateside. The other 10 percent is performed at Army depots and at contractors' facilities.
The amount of work is likely to continue for at least two years after Army troops withdraw from Iraq, officials said.
Managing the repair workload has proved more difficult than anyone in the Army had expected when the war began in 2003. Units rotate in and out of combat zones and leave their equipment behind, for the most part, which complicates efforts to keep track of it and to determine what needs to be fixed or replaced. Additionally, those units that return to their home bases need training equipment so they can be ready to go back to Iraq as soon as one year later. To further complicate matters, the Army has several types of units, and each has unique hardware requirements.
It all adds up to a huge coordination and management challenge, said Col. Carl J. Cartwright, deputy for field support at the Army Sustainment Command, in Rock Island, III.
The command is responsible for the logistics support of combat units around the world. ASC has brigades stationed in Germany, Iraq, South Korea and Qatar, and in the United States at Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Lewis, Wash. More than 60 battalions are dispersed to various combat zones to better grasp the needs of the tactical commanders, Cartwright said in an interview.
"Our focus is combat brigades," he said. But the ASC also must support those specialized units that typically are not assigned to a brigade, such as quartermaster, medical and maintenance companies. "Our field reps visit commanders weekly."
Ensuring that every unit has the equipment it needs is a "big challenge because every unit is different," Cartwright said. "Each one has different kinds of equipment." Their schedules are diverse too. "We have to understand their timeline. Some units are told to plan differently, not under the 180-day or 360-day model." The Army usually takes 180 days to reset an active-duty brigade, and 360 days for reserve units.
Stryker brigades, for example, operate distinct equipment. The most difficult units to equip are the so-called sustainment brigades, which provide maintenance and supplies.
The hardware that returns from combat is either sent to "field level maintenance" at Army bases or to "national level" depot maintenance. "We try to use government facilities first ... and then we go to contractors," said Cartwright.
The ASC, however, is not responsible for the repairs of National Guard equipment. "They run their own programs for the most part," said Cartwright. "As a rule, I have a National Guard officer on our staff and they talk to the National Guard Bureau. They have their own plan for resetting their equipment."
Gregory Kee, deputy chief of staff at the Army Materiel Command, in Fort Belvoir, Va., said the process of rebuilding units has to be managed much like a construction project.
"The Army Sustainment Command [which reports to AMC] is focused on rebuilding the brigade. It's like your general contractor building a house."
Heavy armor high-tech vehicles such as the M1 Abrams tank and the Bradley armored personnel carrier are repaired by their original manufacturers, General Dynamics Land Systems and BAE Systems, respectively.
To meet the Army's tight schedules, contractors have to plan ahead, so they can order enough components and spare parts before the vehicles arrive, although that is not always possible, said Raj Rajagopal, vice president and general manager of BAE's ground systems division in York, Pa. "We want to be able to anticipate when the vehicles will arrive, the condition of the vehicles. You don't know the extent of the damage," he said. "One of the biggest hang-ups is to translate requirements into orders for suppliers."
R. Andrew Hove, director of Bradley combat systems at BAE, said that 10 percent of the Army's fleet of more than 3,000 Bradleys is undergoing some form of repair or upgrade. In peacetime, the vehicle has an eight to 10-year life. In combat, that operational life is reduced to two or three years. It costs the Army $2.5 million to upgrade a Bradley to its most advanced "digital" configuration. A basic refurbishment costs about $1 million per vehicle.
Repairing trucks is less expensive, but the schedule is no less demanding.
Humvees on average cost $14,000 to restore to working order after they return from war. Medium and heavy trucks cost up to $17,000 each to repair.
At Fort Bragg, N.C., Army humvees go through a Nascar-style "pit stop" process that turns vehicles around in 45 to 90 days, depending on the extent of the damage. That turnaround is considered fast by Army standards, said Andre Benoit, program manager at ITT Corporation, Systems Division. The company repairs humvees and other military vehicles at Fort Bragg, under an Army contract it has had since 2001.
During the past two years, ITT has restored 4,800 vehicles, including humvees, medium and heavy trucks owned by the Army 18th Airborne Corps, National Guard and reserves, said Frederique Favreau, maintenance manager. "When the vehicle comes into the shop, it's brought into the pit stop--at that point 85 to 90 percent of the parts have been ordered and delivered," he said. "We are not at the mercy of the supply system to turn vehicles around."
A humvee spends five days in the pit stop, although the entire reconstitution takes at least 45 days. After the pit stop, it goes to body repair and paint.
Before the company instituted the pit stop process, said Benoit, "we were doing 38 to 40 vehicles a month. We increased to 50 by July 2004. By November we were up to 150 vehicles per month. At one point, we were as high as 225."
ITT's contract will be up for competition in 2007. If the company wins an extension, it expects its workload to grow, Favreau said. "I think we'll get a lot of work in the near future. There are a lot of vehicles over in theater sitting right now. They'll have to realize it'll cost less money if they ship them back to facilities that have a reset program like ours."--SANDRA I. ERWIN
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
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