Army Still Searching for New Scout Helicopter
Pending approval by the deputy secretary of defense, the Army will ask helicopter manufacturers to propose candidates for an armed scout rotor-wing aircraft in April at an undetermined location.
If the aircraft exists only on paper or PowerPoint slides, the branch is not interested.
“If you don’t have an airplane, you don’t play. This is come as you are… If it doesn’t fly, don’t bother showing up,” said Maj. Gen. William T. Crosby.
Preliminary conclusions of an analysis of alternatives report show that the Army will need to build a new aircraft from the ground up to replace the Kiowas. The helicopters are in high demand in Afghanistan and Iraq, but their airframes are no longer being manufactured. The Army made two failed attempts to replace them. In both cases, they ran into cost overruns and the programs were cancelled.
The Army will need a new aircraft by 2030, officials said.
“The scout we’re flying needs some love. So we’ve either got to do a service life extension or we got to get us a system to replace it,” Crosby said.
Manufacturers will be asked to bring their aircraft for one-week demonstrations. It will use the requirements from the two failed programs, the Comanche, and the armed reconnaissance helicopter, as baselines to judge the aircraft.
Meeting the requirements is only part of the equation, Crosby stressed. Aviation officials will have to determine what it will cost to add a new helicopter to the fleet. Training, maintenance and logistics for new aircraft are added expenses.
If they find a suitable off-the-shelf helicopter, it will be compared to what it will cost to update the three-decade-old Kiowas. Aviation branch officials called these two scenarios “appetite suppressants.”
When asked if the Army Aviation had missed its window to acquire a new armed aerial scout helicopter, Brig. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, aviation branch commander, said emphatically “no.”
“We are in heavy, heavy demand. … Even in a period of declining resources, the money for modernization is holding for Army aviation,” he added.
The branch could run into trouble “if we get dyslexic and we start asking for more that the budget is going to allow us to have,” Crutchfield said.
Army aviation leaders in the boom years often complained that their research and development funding was too low compared to other military science and technology programs. Today, it stands at about $100 million per year.
The Army will have to partner more closely with industry and foreign allies to invest in new technologies that will allow the next generations of attack, lift and scout helicopters to fly faster, higher and more efficiently, Crosby said.
Crutchfield said: “We have to tell our leaders that we need the money for [science and technology] to meet this mission in 2030.”