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Army aviation: helicopter fleet features mix of new, refurbished aircraft.

As a result of the heavy use of helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army will need more than 3,000 new or remanufactured attack, utility, cargo and special operations helicopters by 2020, according to aviation program officials.

The service, meanwhile, is expected to award five contracts some time next year to study options to design and develop a joint heavy lift vehicle.

The Army now plans to upgrade 597 AH64D Longbow Apaches, all of them remanufactured from AH-64As at the Boeing facility in Mesa, Ariz.

In 1997, the Army equipped D-model Apaches with all-weather fire control radar, fire-and-forget missiles, digital cockpits and improvements to ease maintenance. A second upgrade to the AH-64D, now in progress, adds color cockpit displays, a digital map, over-the-horizon high frequency radio and a modernized target acquisition and pilot night-vision sensor.

Block III--also in development--improves the Apache air vehicle with composite main rotor blades, an improved transmission and more powerful T700-GE701D engines, which also are used in the Army's Black Hawks. Block III also includes new technology that will allow Apache pilots to operate unmanned air vehicles from the cockpit.

The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq proved that helicopters need "situational awareness" of ground operations, says Apache program manager, Col. Ralph Pallotta. The current Block II Longbow Apache can access the Army's tactical Internet and send radar imagery to other aircraft. The Block III avionics system will traffic larger volumes of data from ground, air and space networks.

Boeing program managers believe that Apache airframes can be remanufactured at less cost than a new aircraft. The company's "lean manufacturing" initiatives aim to lower costs, for example, by building remanufactured aircraft for the Army and new aircraft for international customers on the same line.

The current AH-64D multi-year contract for 217 Block II Longbow Apaches wraps up in mid-2006. A follow-on contract calls for the remanufacture of 96 more AH-64As to Block II D models. Boeing officials expect a proposal for 13 new-build Block II Longbow Apaches to result in a contract this September that would eliminate a production gap between Blocks II and III.

Block III includes 284 Block ID models that will be remanufactured. The Army also wants to upgrade all Block II Longbow Apaches to Block III, and a decision to modernize 117 National Guard AH-64As to D-models is expected this summer.

Upgrading all U.S. Army Apaches to the Longbow Block III standard could stretch through 2020. Combined production of Block II AH-64Ds for the U.S. and international orders now runs four to six aircraft per month. Ten countries fly the Apache. Israel, Egypt and Greece have ordered D-model upgrades for their AH-64As. More Longbow orders are expected from Israel, Japan and the United Kingdom. New buyers may include Saudi Arabia and Taiwan.

Multiple modernization efforts also are under way for the Army's war workhorses: the Black Hawk, made by Sikorsky; and the Chinook, made by Boeing.

The U.S. Army expects to have 1,806 Black Hawks by 2008, including current UH-60A and L utility helicopters, some UH-60Q and HH-60L medevac aircraft, and the first new UH-60Ms.

Production of the UH-60L concludes in 2006, and the UH-60M ramps up to full-rate production in 2007. The Army is counting on 394 UH-60Ms to be delivered between 2007 and 2011. The goal is to buy 1,213 aircraft. Because of the high cost of remanufacturing Black Hawks, program managers decided that newly built helicopters were a better financial proposition.

The M-model Black Hawk is intended for high-altitude, hot-weather performance. Its T700-GE-701D engine will also be tested on UH-60As and Ls this year. The UH60Ms will have the same glass cockpits that are delivered with international Black Hawks. By 2007, the Army plans to incorporate a "common avionics architecture" that was developed for special operations aircraft. In parallel with regular Army units, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment will upgrade from the current MH-60L and K to the new MH-60M.

Twenty-five countries have purchased Black Hawks. Orders for UH-60s from 10 countries are expected in 2005.

Chinooks will get a number of improvements. Boeing upgraded the Army's CH-47As, Bs, and Cs to D-models from 1982 to 1994. The most advanced variants today are the CH-47F and the MH-47G special operations model.

G-model Chinooks are being rebuilt from CH-47Ds with brand-new cockpits. Rotor blades, drive-trains, engines, and other parts are being overhauled. Thirteen MH-47Gs have been delivered in 2005. The Army is seeking 61 special operations aircraft, with the last 24 possibly built with new airframes.

Refurbishing old Chinook airframes involves costly inspections and repairs. Lean manufacturing techniques helped cut the cost of a new CH-47F from $42 million to $30 million.

The cargo fleet will ultimately include 402 F-Model Chinooks with new airframes under refurbished drive-trains and rotor systems. Another 50 CH-47Fs will have totally new airframes and dynamics. Boeing will increase delivery rates from two to three Chinooks per month in 2006, and the CH-47F will be ready by 2007.

Chinook deliveries will continue through 2020. The CH-47F is just starting to be marketed internationally, say Boeing officials. Egyptian CH-47Ds are still in the factory, and for most international Chinook operators, the D-model is still relatively new. Boeing, nevertheless, expects the CH-47F to appeal to Japan and other customers. The U.S. Army is seeking authority for Boeing to sell its unmodified CH-47Ds to international buyers for about one-third the price of the new cargo helicopter and apply the credit toward new CH-47Fs.

Much activity also is taking place in the reconnaissance fleet. The OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, particularly, has been praised for its performance in Iraq.

The Army intends to replace the Kiowa Warrior with a new "armed reconnaissance helicopter," which has yet to receive a formal designation. Bell Helicopter won the ARH competition in late July and will build 368 aircraft at its Canadian facility. Mission equipment will be integrated at a Bell site in Texas. Current plans call for the first of four ARH test aircraft to fly in the first quarter of 2006.

ARH deliveries could start as early as October 2007 and continue through 2013, to match retirement plans for the Army's 354 Kiowa Warriors.

The ARH will have an advanced survivability suite with an infrared exhaust suppressor and a missile-warning receiver.

Army officials caution that the ARH will not be a "Comanche-lite." Unlike the Comanche, which the Army cancelled last year, the new reconnaissance helicopter does not stress stealth features or breakthroughs in sensor technology.

Another element of the Army's aviation modernization blueprint is a "light utility helicopter." Officials predict the program could reach 322 helicopters delivered between 2006 and 2015. The Army is seeking a certified off-the-shelf helicopter that also could be employed in homeland security missions. Bell has proposed a single-engine 210 model. Lockheed Martin has teamed with MDHelicopters Inc. to propose a light utility helicopter based on the twin-engine MDExplorer. Contractors expect a solicitation for bids later this year.

The only truly new vertical lift program on the horizon is the "joint heavy lift" cargo helicopter. A multi-service Defense Department task force has been evaluating potential concepts for this program.

If the Army had a heavy-lift helicopter that was bigger than the Chinook, it would be able to take some of the load off ground convoys in Iraq, officials note.

The Army's cargo helicopter program manager, Col. Tim Crosby, says he expects to issue five study contracts this summer to establish milestones and timelines. But the program is not likely to fulfill any near-term needs. "We're still going to need a lot of Chinooks even if I get my heavy-lift rotorcraft," says Crosby.
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Title Annotation:FLEET UPGRADES
Author:Colucci, Frank
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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