Foreign Sales to Keep Apache, Chinook in Production for Decades
By Allyson Versprille
Projected foreign military sales of AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopters in conjunction with planned domestic buys are expected to keep the airplanes in production for decades, said Boeing and Army officials.
"It’s easily safe to say that the Apache is going to be flying well into the 2060 timeframe," when you consider both domestic and international demand for the new E-model, said Mark Ballew, Boeing's head of business development for attack helicopters.
According to Kim Smith, Boeing's vice president of attack helicopters, the company has delivered 217 Echo models and 87 of those have gone to international customers. “You can look across the map and see the current presence or future presence of what the Apache has to offer,” she said at a press briefing during the 2015 Association of the United States Army conference in Washington, D.C.
Boeing is currently producing helicopters for South Korea, an order that totals 36 aircraft, and the company was recently awarded a contract by India for 22 aircraft, making it the 15th international customer, Smith said.
One of the main goals for the U.S. Army is to sign a multiyear contract that will cover production of the aircraft from fiscal year 2017 through 2021, said Col. Jeff Hager, U.S. Army project manager for Apache attack helicopters. The contract includes a base quantity of 240. "We’ve got secretary of the Army approval to proceed forward," he said. "We have the proposal from Boeing and we have the [Defense Department's Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation] … conducting their analysis of the proposal right now.” The program office plans to submit the documentation to the secretary of defense in March for approval, Hager said.
Ballew noted that the multiyear agreement offers an advantage because of its options for foreign military sales, which will expedite international transactions.
More foreign military sales would mean greater commonality and interoperability with allies, Ballew said. “If you look through what’s going on in the Asia-Pacific region, we have aircraft in Japan, aircraft in Singapore. We signed a contract with Indonesia," in addition to the sale in South Korea, he said. That “gives us a lot of stability, a lot of interoperability working with the U.S. as well as our allies in that region.”
In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have acquired aircraft and letters of offer and acceptance have been signed with Qatar for additional buys, "strengthening our position" there, he said.
In Europe, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are customers for the Apache helicopter, and Boeing is currently working with Poland to determine if the aircraft fits its requirements, he added.
Ballew said the company is in discussions with 10 countries that are interested in the Apache. Some have older Apaches and want to modernize their fleet from the D model to the E model, while others are potential new customers. The total number of aircraft involved in those discussions is upwards of 75, and "that's a conservative number," Ballew said. “They’re seeing the value of the aircraft. They understand the importance of the Apache, and they’re looking for that interoperability and commonality," he said.
The U.S. Army is still on track to procure a total of 690 AH-64Es, Hager said.
Similar growth is projected for the Chinook heavy-lift helicopter. More than 340 of the newest F model have been delivered to the U.S. Army, and there is also high interest overseas, said Stephen Parker, Boeing's vice president for cargo helicopters and H-47 Chinook program manager.
Boeing was recently awarded a contract by the Indian government for the procurement of 15 CH-47F Chinook helicopters with options for seven more. In September the company also delivered the seventh and final F model to Australia.
There are a total of 19 international customers for the Chinook including the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey. Additionally, co-production programs are in place with AgustaWestland in Italy and Kawasaki Heavy Industries in Japan, he noted.
"We see a lot of potential to pick up additional … customers in the next six to 12 months," Parker said.
Col. Rob Barrie, the U.S. Army's project manager for cargo helicopters, said there are 30 options for potential foreign military sales on the service's multiyear Chinook contract that will expire in fiscal year 2017. "We anticipate we will exhaust those 30 options in the remaining two years of procurement that we have."
Of the 30 options, Boeing anticipates a mixture of both foreign military sales and direct commercial sales, Parker said. That would result in production of more than 150 Chinooks between now and 2022. Many of the interested parties would be new Chinook customers, he added.
"Where we see the F sales, where we see Block 2 coming in and where we see our extended range aircraft sales, we're very confident that we will maintain that production line in good quantity numbers into the 2030s." Block 2 is the next-generation of the Chinook. It is not yet a program of record but the request for proposals is expected in the second quarter of fiscal year 2016 with a milestone B decision in fiscal year 2017.
Randy Rotte, Boeing's head of business development for cargo helicopters, said the reduced maintenance and suppor cost of the new Chinook makes the aircraft attractive overseas. "The F model has already proven to be less costly to operate than the D model," he said. "In these constrained times [the price] helps, especially those international customers who don't have 400 aircraft. The fact that it is cheaper to operate at least entices them to perhaps get a few more."