EADS Touts Light Utility Helicopter as Replacement for Aging Kiowas

By Grace Jean

The Army in the coming months will complete a review to determine whether it needs to buy a new armed scout helicopter to replace its aging OH-58D Kiowa Warriors. 

EADS, which is building the UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopter for the Army, is making what company officials called a “significant investment” in technologies in anticipation of the Army’s forthcoming requirements. The European multinational company is investing in alterations to the LUH that would posture it to compete for a possible armed scout helicopter contract. 

“We’re not trying to get in front of the Army doing the [analysis of alternatives],” said John Burke, EADS North America vice president and manager of the UH-72A light utility helicopter program. But, “We believe that the armed scout is a natural evolution” of the Lakota aircraft.

The company has altered three of its LUH models to prove that the aircraft could be modified into a combat-ready scout/attack helicopter. Burke declined to elaborate on what specific modifications were achieved.

Army Col. L. Neil Thurgood, project manager for utility helicopters, lauded the Lakota program for its ability to stay on schedule. So far, EADS has delivered 138 of345 aircraft on contract, he told reporters at the annual conference of the Association of the United States Army in Washington, D.C.  

“Make no mistake, the light utility helicopter is not a combat aircraft,” said Thurgood. The aircraft is designed to fly in non-hostile environments conducting Army and National Guard missions ranging from medical evacuation, search and rescue and drug interdiction to transport and general aviation support. “Could it do some future mission? Absolutely it could, but it would have to be modified,” he told reporters. 

Though the Army terminated the armed reconnaissance helicopter and the RAH-66 Comanche scout helicopter programs because of technical and budgetary problems, Army aviation officials said they are confident that the right processes and personnel are in place to eventually replace the aging Kiowas. 

“We the Army made a tough decision to cut our losses and to take those resources and apply them across our fleet,” said Brig. Gen. William T. Crosby, program executive officer for Army Aviation. 

Brig. Gen. Anthony G. Crutchfield, commanding general of Fort Rucker and the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, said that an analysis of alternatives for the armed scout helicopter would be completed in time to begin budgetary planning for any resulting aircraft acquisition program. 

Delivery of the Lakota light utility helicopter began in 2007. Aircraft production has been moved from overseas to a new facility in Columbus, Miss. There are five variants of the aircraft for various medical, training and security operations. 

The Army recently awarded EADS the first phase of a $152 million contract to equip Lakotas with mission equipment packages for the security and support battalion aircraft. Deliveries will commence next year with systems including video sensors, touch-screen displays, digital video recorders and data downlinks. 

The package will enable the helicopter’s pilots and operators to communicate with civil authorities, such as first responders and state agencies, said Thurgood. Unlike other military rotary-wing craft, it will be able to navigate by street addresses rather than grid coordinates.

Burke added that the air-ground data link will give troops the ability to transmit analog and digital imagery in real time to ground stations that can receive it. The all-digital cockpit provides situational awareness with a high-capacity datalink, he said. 

This latest modification is ready to go and will open up the marketplace potentially for international customers, Thurgood said. Army officials have had preliminary discussions with several nations in the Middle East and the Caribbean that have expressed interest in foreign military sales, he added. 

The aircraft also is helping the Army cope with its shortage of Blackhawk helicopters in war zones. Army officials have swapped out 23 state-side Blackhawks with Lakotas.

“Twenty-three may not sound like much, but remember an assault battalion is only 30 aircraft. So for every Blackhawk I can get back in the fight and put a Lakota there that can do the mission ...  it is absolutely critical,” said Thurgood. 

As part of that swap, Lakotas are now participating in combat and medical evacuation operations at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., and transporting senior leaders and distinguished guests at various Army installations across the nation.

“EADS has done a great job with aircraft. You will see more of those flying over your neighborhoods,” said Thurgood.

Topics: Aviation, Rotary Wing

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