Army Not Impressed With Armed Aerial Scout Offerings
The possibility of replacing Bell Helicopter’s Kiowa Warrior with a new armed aerial scout aircraft continues to grow dimmer.
Five manufacturers demonstrated their helicopters this past fall, but none of them had capabilities that justified the cost of kicking off a new program, said Army Secretary John McHugh.
“We have money in the '14 budget to continue to look at that, but if we're going to make that kind of investment, we think there has to be new and added value to the platform," he told reporters April 30.
Upgrades to the Kiowa Warrior’s sensors and cockpit will keep it operational into the 2030s, he said, but the Army still needs to find a next-generation capability to meet its needs after that.
Defense contractors may not have to wait too long for a decision on whether a competition will happen. The Army will determine by the end of the summer whether to opt for a new platform or a service-life extension for the Kiowa, Lt. Gen. James O. Barclay III, deputy chief of staff of Army G-8, said at an April 26 hearing for the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on tactical air and land forces.
The same morning McHugh spoke, the upgraded OH-58F Kiowa made its ceremonial first flight at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala. The F-designated aircraft weighs 160 pounds less than the OH-58D and contains new color displays, a more advanced nose-mounted sensor and new hardware and software in the cockpit.
The service is acting as systems integrator for the OH-58F, which officials say will save the Army $37 million during the research, development, and test-and-evaluation phase and more than $551 million during procurement and production.
Army officials have been contemplating a replacement for the Kiowa for more than a decade.
Two attempts at replacing the helicopter have already failed. Cost overruns killed Boeing-Sikorsky’s RAH-66 Comanche in 2004 and Bell Helicopter’s Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter in 2008.
In October 2011, the Army announced a voluntary flight demonstration at the Association of the United States Army annual symposium to take place in early 2012, but the service pushed back the flyoff until later that year.
Contenders for the armed aerial scout range from variants of existing helicopters to a new platform that pushes the technological envelope.
But in a fiscally austere environment, Army officials must weigh the near-term benefit of replacing the Kiowa Warrior against a more long-term solution to replace its helicopter fleet with a “future vertical lift” capability that is leaps ahead in terms of speed, range and payload.
EADS demonstrated two aircraft for the Army. The first, the AAS72-X is an armed version of its UH-72 Lakota. It also flew the AAS72-X+, which is upgraded with a fully digital glass cockpit and improved engine.
Bell Helicopter flew its Kiowa Block II, which has a more powerful Honeywell HTS900 engine and can fly higher in hot temperatures than the Block I version.
Boeing is offering an armed aerial scout version of its AH-6 Little Bird attack helicopter.
AgustaWestland unveiled its contender for the competition, the AW169 AAS, earlier this month. The company previously demonstrated its AW139M prototype in June 2012 for the Army.
Sikorsky is the only competitor that hasn’t demonstrated a working helicopter. Its S-97 Raider prototype will not be operational until 2014. It is the only one with a nonconventional offering. The Raider will be based off the company’s X2 experimental compound helicopter, which uses two coaxial rotors and a propeller at the rear.
During flight tests from 2008 to 2011, the X2 demonstrated a 250-knot speed in level flight and could hover more than twice as high as the Kiowa at temperatures of 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
Photo Credit: Bell Helicopter