The U.S. Army may put new engines and a new drive train on its workhorse OH-58 Kiowa Warrior armed scout helicopters to give them “increased power margins to meet the high and hot demands of 6,000 feet and 95 degrees Fahrenheit, which are some of the conditions we’re flying in Afghanistan today,” the service’s top operations officer told the Association of the United States Army’s annual aviation symposium in January.
Lt. Gen. James Thurman, deputy chief of staff, said beefing up the OH-58’s power was only “a possibility” so far, but service leaders are excited about the added performance offered by the new UH-60M Black Hawk. The UH-60M’s T700-GE-701D engines let it hover out of ground effect at more than twice the altitude of earlier models, Col. Clay Hutmacher, commander of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, told the symposium. The 160th’s first company of UH-60Ms is to be fielded in November 2011 and will provide “a significant capability in Afghanistan that we don’t have now,” Hutmacher said.
An OH-58 engine upgrade would come on top of modifications the Army is making to extend the venerable and much-in-demand Kiowa Warrior’s service life while studying how to replace it. Thurman said the service life extension is costing $4 million per helicopter.
The changes include replacing the OH-58’s distinctive mast-mounted sight with a nose-mounted sensor, he noted, as well as upgrading the cockpit, adding digital flight controls and installing gear to let Kiowa Warrior crews receive video and other data generated by sensors on unmanned aerial vehicles. Maj. Gen. James O. Barclay III, commanding general of the Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Ala., told the gathering the Army is still studying alternatives for a new armed scout helicopter, an effort begun after it cancelled the ARH-70A Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter two years ago. For that reason, the Army plans to fly its Kiowa Warriors until at least 2020 and probably 2025, he said.
The first phase of the Analysis of Alternatives should be finished in April, Barclay said. Unmanned as well as manned alternatives, and combinations of the two, are being considered.