The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps plan to equip their aircraft fleets
with 1,429 new rotorcraft during the next 20 years.
got a lot of stuff moving very, very rapidly,” says Tom Laux,
Navy program executive officer for air, antisubmarine warfare, assault,
and special missions.
Navy program managers contend that the current fleet is wearing
out faster than expected as a result of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Marine CH-53Es have experienced twice the anticipated attrition
resulting from mishaps. Officials predict that airframe fatigue
will cause safety problems by 2011 or 2012.
In the first three weeks of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 89 AH-1W attack
and 45 UH-1N utility helicopters flew 7,500 hours, an operating
tempo several times higher than normal peacetime conditions. The
Marines have lost, since 9/11, 17 H-1s—5.5 percent of the
fleet. Their remaining UH-1Ns are underpowered and overweight. “The
Novembers just aren’t there any more to fill the Marine Corps
mission,” says the H-1 program manager, Col. Keith Birkholz.
At the same time, the military services are demanding more capabilities
from their helicopters. The new SH-60R Seahawk retains its primary
anti-submarine warfare mission, but now integrates sensors and weapons
for littoral combat. Later production MH-60S Knight Hawks may convert
from vertical replenishment to airborne mine countermeasures, and
then to armed helicopter missions.
“We need to focus on capabilities,” says the H-60 program
manager, Capt. Paul Grosklags. The multi-mission MH-60S, for example,
needs systems that are simpler to operate, and equipped with more
automated functions. “We need to de-complicate machines,”
But not all requirements can be met with electronics alone. Separately
from the heavy lift replacement, the Marine Corps is participating
in joint studies to define a vertical takeoff and landing replacement
for the KC-130 Hercules that is scheduled to enter service around
2025. A 100,000-pound joint heavy lifter will require advances in
rotor systems, flight controls and propulsion.
He notes that manpower still consumes the biggest chunk of the
naval aviation budget, and the service looks for personnel savings
to pay for new aircraft. The MH-60R, for example, trims the four-man
crew of the SH-60F anti-submarine warfare helicopter to three people.
Commonality between the AH-1Z and UH-Y will enable Marine expeditionary
units to deploy more aircraft without additional maintainers.
In the 1970s, Marine light attack squadrons deployed aboard amphibious
assault ships with a mix of six AH-1J Sea Cobras and three UH-1N
Twin Hueys that shared common engines and other components. Today,
AH-1Ws and UH-1Ns deploy in a 4-2 or 4-3 mix because of the manpower
needed to support two different helicopters.
To upgrade and standardize the fleet, the Marine Corps plans to
replace 183 AH-1W Super Cobras and 86 UH-1N Twin Hueys with 180
AH-1Z attack and 100 UH-1Y armed utility helicopters by 2014. Both
new types share four-bladed main and tail rotors, transmissions
and twin General Electric turboshafts. The helicopters have infrared
engine exhaust suppressors to mask their heat signature and enhance
their survivability. The two aircraft share more than 80 percent
of identical parts.
The tandem-seat AH-1Z more than doubles the combat radius of the
AH-1W and carries a typical load of Hellfire missiles, 70 mm rockets,
and 20 mm cannon ammunition. Likewise, the UH-1Y in scout, command-and-control,
and utility missions doubles the range and payload of its predecessor.
It has a side-by-side cockpit and crashworthy seats for 10 troops.
The AH-1Z integrates a Lockheed Martin target sight system with
a third-generation mid-wave forward looking infrared sensor, color
TV camera, laser designator/rangefinder and laser spot tracker.
The UH-1Y carries an improved systems sensor gimbal with FLIR, TV
Both Marine helicopters share modern navigation, communication
and pilot aids. Attack and utility crews in their different “glass”
cockpits will fly with the same digital maps and helmet displays.
The avionics system also provides room for growth. Block II AH-1Zs
and UH-1Ys will receive an improved mission computer developed for
the Navy E-2D Hawkeye.
Two AH-1Zs and two UH-1Y test aircraft were scheduled to start
an operational evaluation in July with test squadron HX-21. Four
of the 16 aircraft under contract are currently in fixtures at the
Bell plant in Amarillo, Texas. A successful evaluation report late
this year will transition the line from low-rate to full production
in 2006. Scheduled deliveries include nine UH-1Ys and three AH-1Zs
in 2006, 14 1Ys and five 1Zs in 2007, and 14 1Ys and seven 1Zs in
both 2008 and 2009. A multi-year production contract is expected
The H-1 upgrade started as a remanufacturing effort for both the
AH-1W and UH-1N. The AH-1Z would be 40 percent new, and the UH-1Y,
82 percent. Cost analyses of past remanufacturing programs showed
a newly built UH-1Y was a better deal, and the Marine Corps realized
that deployed squadrons could not surrender helicopters for lengthy
manufacture. The first 10 UH-1Ys will use recovered airframes, but
the third production lot next year and all subsequent UH-1Ys will
start from scratch. A new-build program for AH-1Zs remains under
With aging Twin Hueys a more immediate problem than the robust
Super Cobra fleet, production plans call for the UH-1Y to enter
the inventory by 2013. The AH-1Z would be operational by 2017.
The MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor, meanwhile, began its operational evaluation
with Test Squadron HMX-22 in March and has so far demonstrated all
performance requirements except self-deployment. If all tests are
successful, Bell officials say the company will increase the production
rate of 12 Ospreys a year to a peak of 38 aircraft per year by 2011.
Deliveries will continue through 2017.
The Marines plan to buy 360 tilt rotors—264 of them to replace
223 Boeing CH-46Es and 35 Sikorsky CH-53Ds now in active and reserve
Marine medium lift squadrons. Twenty MV-22s will outfit training
squadrons. Eight special mission aircraft in presidential squadron
HMX-1 will fly training missions at Quantico, Va., and transport
congressional officials around Washington, D.C. Four tilt rotors
will be set aside for research and testing. The Corps will keep
31 backup aircraft and 33 for attrition reserve.
The MV-22 aircraft now being tested, called Block A, incorporate
safety improvements that were driven by the devastating Osprey crashes
in 2000. Other maintenance improvements are planned for Block B
starting with aircraft 71. Fleet squadron VMM-263 will become operational
in 2007 with Block B MV-22s. Fourteen pre-Block A aircraft stored
at the Amarillo International Airport, will be upgraded to Block
B standards and delivered to the fleet. Additional weight reductions
appear in Block C aircraft, to be delivered to West Coast Marine
The Air Force Special Operations Command has ordered 50 CV-22s,
which are customized for search and rescue missions. They are scheduled
to enter service in 2009. The Navy still plans to buy 48 MV-22s
for recovery or combat search-and-rescue, with deliveries starting
The Marines also are grappling with the aging of the CH-53 fleet.
The Corps received 180 Super Stallions from 1981 to 1999, and the
147 aircraft remaining in the fleet average 17 years of age. Pylon
fold bulkheads have a service life of just above 6,000 flight hours,
and fatigue will make a significant impact on aircraft availability
Piecemeal repairs to keep helicopters flying do little to reduce
fleet operating and costs, says CH-53 program manager Col. Paul
Croisetiere. He estimates that CH-53E operating costs climbed from
$15,000 per flight hour in 2003 to more than $20,000 in 2004. He
calculates that every year a replacement program is delayed increases
annual fleet costs by $2 million to $3 million.
A Marine Corps study completed in September 2003 concluded the
best heavy-lift replacement would be a new CH-53X. Current plans
call for 156 aircraft to begin service by 2015. The program office
will recommend sole-source procurement through Sikorsky as the fastest
way to meet a pressing schedule. However, it will seek competitive
bids on engines, integrated cockpits and aircraft survivability
Marine Corps planners also looked at lift requirements for 2015.
Scenarios include inserting a reinforced battalion inland behind
defended beaches in one eight-to-10-hour period of darkness. Studies
revealed a CH-53X is needed for 59 percent of the external sling
The replacement helicopter must be able to haul two up-armored
Humvees—27,000 pounds—110 nautical miles. Today’s
CH-53E slings only one vehicle. The V-22 cannot lift the up-armored
Humvee at high temperatures. The objective is to increase the payload
to 30,000 pounds over the same radius. The Marine heavy-lift replacement
must also have more cabin space for Air Force cargo pallets and
cargo containers, and a handling system that loads and unloads the
cabin in 30 minutes. A heavy-lift replacement, industry officials
predict, would enter service by 2021.
The Defense Department, for its part, is studying options to develop
a joint heavy lift vertical takeoff and landing aircraft—big
enough to carry Army Future Combat System vehicles, which will weigh
at least 18 to 20 tons. The department’s “vertical lift
task force” is designing concept aircraft that are able to
take off and land vertically and cover distances greater than 400
nautical miles at cruising speeds of up to 200, 250 or 300 knots.
Five study contracts were expected in late June to identify possible
concepts and affordability.
The Navy currently flies 320 Sikorsky H-60s in four variants—SH-60B,
SH-60F, HH-60H, and MH-60. It plans to buy 271 new MH-60S Knight
Hawks and 254 MH-60R Seahawks. The Navy will expand the number of
helicopters aboard its carriers from 13 to 21 or 22 aircraft, and
broaden helicopter capabilities in ship deployments.
Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin are co-prime contractors on the MH-60R
and S programs.
The MH-60S started as a new-build amalgam of Army Black Hawk and
Navy Seahawk. Initial plans to remanufacture B-, F-, and H-model
Seahawks into MH-60Rs have given way to totally new production.
Sikorsky recently delivered the first MH-60R to the Lockheed Martin
plant, where it will be outfitted with a digital cockpit and other
The MH-60S entered service in 2002 as a replacement for the Boeing
CH-46D Sea Knight, moving cargo between ships. The 78 Knight Hawks
delivered so far are Block 1 aircraft with glass cockpits and data
buses, but little specialized mission equipment. Structurally strengthened
Block 2A and B aircraft have mine-hunting sensors and countermeasures.
The new Knight Hawks will become operational in 2006 and 2007 with
five mine-hunting systems—side-looking sonar, acoustic/magnetic
minesweeper, remotely piloted anti-mine torpedoes, mine-detecting
laser and 30 mm mine-detonating cannon. The Navy plans to acquire
66 organic mine countermeasures kits that would enable Knight Hawks
to sweep for mines from any ship. That capability now is only found
in dedicated MH-53Es and surface minesweepers.
The MH-60S will replace the HH-60H in the combat-rescue and special
warfare support roles. In 2006, Block 3A aircraft will receive armament
kits including an electro-optical gimbal, eight Hellfire missiles,
.50 caliber and 7.62 millimeter guns and updated aircraft survivability
equipment. The Navy will buy 126 kits to outfit both MH-60R and
S models. The last 162 MH-60Ss built will be multi-mission naval
helicopters with Link 16 communications capability that will network
the helicopters to other tactical aircraft.
Equipped with the data-link, dipping sonar, multi-mode radar, electronic
support measures and an electro-optical gimbal, the MH-60R assumes
the roles of today’s SH-60B and SH-60F Seahawks. It retains
a primary anti-submarine warfare role and anti-surface warfare capability.
The MH-60 will be in operation by 2006 and should deploy with the
MH-60S in a mixed carrier air wing by early 2009.
Like the MH-60S, the MH-60R can be armed with Hellfire missiles
Rotary aviation in the Navy and Marine Corps will be a growth industry
for some time, says Rear Adm. Thomas J. Kilcline Jr., director of
the Navy Air Warfare Division.
Emerging “concepts of operations” for helicopter missions
focus on antiterrorism mission, he tells National Defense. In maritime
interdiction operations, for example, helicopters are teamed with
inflatable RHIB boats. “In the future, we may find ourselves
doing more with helicopters,” says Kilcline. Armed helicopters
“will be useful against smaller threats, such as swarming