June 18, 2012
Credit: Credit: US Army
Having canceled the replacement for its hard-flown Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior armed scout helicopter not once, but twice, the U.S. Army is anxious to avoid any mistakes this time around.
Industry is telling the Army it can build helicopters for the Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) mission, and has built demonstrators to prove it. But having failed first with the Boeing Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche in 2004 and then with the Bell ARH-70 Arapaho in 2008, the service is being cautious.
The Army is not abandoning the Kiowa Warrior. Cockpit and sensor obsolescence is being tackled with the OH-58F upgrade, and the Army is keeping open its option to extend the service life of the F-model. But the service also is asking industry for information on designs that could replace the armed scout and to volunteer its helicopters for a flight demonstration.
This is not a flyoff competition, the service stresses, but an evaluation intended to inform a decision by year-end on whether the AAS requirement is to be fulfilled by a Kiowa Warrior service life extension program (SLEP) or by launching a “full and open competition” for a new armed scout helicopter.
It is a strategy not without risk. The Army already has a funding wedge in the budget plan for the SLEP, but this option requires the service to live with the OH-58D's performance and survivability limitations. The alternative requires the Army to divert SLEP funds to pay for development of a new helicopter, and accept the risk in keeping an aging Kiowa Warrior fleet flying until the replacement AAS is fielded.
The strategy was approved by the Pentagon in May, and the Army met with industry late last month to discuss its plans for the AAS request for information (RFI) and voluntary flight demonstration (VFD). “We had a good response from industry and expect that four or five [companies] will demonstrate technology and capability with a flyable aircraft,” says an Army spokeswoman.
“The flight demos may begin as early as the end of June and are projected to be complete in October/November,” she says. “We have planned approximately two weeks with each vendor for the flight demos, which could vary depending on the individual scope.”