Military: Re-Tooling for the Next Flight

By By Rhett Cooder | October 1, 2006
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What of the U.S. Army’s aviation transformation plans will su rvive the brinksmanship being played in Washington with the defense budget for Fiscal 2007 and the years immediately following? That seems to be the question on many minds in Army aviation.

The Army has plans in place to replace nearly all of its helicopters with new or rebuilt aircraft The fixed-wing fleet also is slated for an upgrade. But the funding for those upgrades is based on a two-year-old agreement to dedicate former RAH -66 Comanche funds for that purpose, and the commitment to that agreement in the White House and on Capitol Hill is tested daily by the rising costs of the war in Iraq and the global fight against terrorism.

A high-stakes fight over the Army budget only heightens the prospect that the aviation upgrade programs will become bargaining chips in that wrangling. But a highstakes fight is just what the Army is pitching.


Convinced members of Congress will not want to appear like they are undercutting the troops in what is shaping up to be a tough election year, the Army’s chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, is challenging Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to increase substantially the service’s share of the Fiscal 2008 budget. The general is betting that if Rumsfeld won’t, House members facing tough races and anxious to show their support for the troops will prod the cantankerous defense secretary to pony up more funds for the Army. Some reports put Schoomaker’s goal at an increase of 25 percent or more in Fiscal 2008 funding over the Army’s Fiscal 2007 request of roughly $112 billion.

The Army’s funding concerns are driven by the need to repair and refurbi sh equipment coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan to predeployment condition and replace that gear lost in combat.

Schoomaker has been on the soapbox, warning in public that the readiness levels of Army units will fall to dangerous levels if funding isn’t increased. Perhaps most startling, he flouted Pentagon budget procedures by withholding the Army’s 2008 program objective memorandum, which was due to the secretary’s office by mid-August. Army officials defended that move by arguing they could not in good faith forward a memorandum in the face of gaping shortfalls between operational requirements and funding available under the secretary’s guidance. A spokesman for Schoomaker said the Army and the secretary’s office agreed to delay the memorandum’s submission until the service and the secretary’s staff agree on “what the Army needed in terms of resources.” A submission was expected in mid-September.

The spat is not over small change.

While the Army this year asked for about $13.5 billion in emergency supplemental funding for combat operations and other expenses, the White House cut that to about $8.6 billion. Schoomaker has told Congress the Army still needs the extra money. He added that the service needs $12-13 billion each year until fighting in Iraq ends and for several years after that. In addition, while the Army had projected that it would need $7-8 billion a year through 2011 to “reset” equipment to pre-deployment condition, Schoomaker has said the service needs a lot more than that. The Army has said reset requirements in Fiscal 2007 alone will total about $17 billion.

The standoff comes as many in Washington are pointing to a likely downturn in defense spending in coming years. While the Pentagon’s budget rose about 5 percent a year from 2001 to 2005, the Bush administration is now proposing annual increases of 1.7 percent, according to congressional analyses.

That obviously raises concerns for those interested in long-term acquisition aviation programs like those to bring the new Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, Light Utility Helicopter and Joint Cargo Aircraft into the Army aviation fleet. Such programs are logical targets for budet-cutters, particularly if they suffer any kind of delay or become subjects of controversy, as all three Army aviation programs have.

The Bell YRH -70A’s first flight slipped by several months, a result of avionics integration issues.

The Light Utility Helicopter contract the Army awarded to a team led by EA DS North America has been challenged by two of the losing bidders.

The Joint Cargo Aircraft has been mired in disputes between the Army and Air Force of the roles and missions of the aircraft and how they will be divided among those services.

It doesn’t take long for shots to be taken at “troubled” programs. When the Senate passed its $470-billion version of the Fiscal 2007 defense appropriations bill 98-0 on Sept. 7, it included provisions to cut $107 from the Light Utility Helicopter because of procurement delays and $40 million and six aircraft from the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program “to mitigate schedule risk.” The bill also would postpone buying the Joint Cargo Aircraft until the Army and Air Force agree on with a joint concept of operations for the platform.

The Senate and House must work out differences in their versions of that bill.

With the budgetary background set, let’s look at where Army aviation programs stand.

Deep-Strike Mission
While top Army leaders at the Army Aviation Assn. of America gathering in Nashville earlier this year all agreed that AH -64 Apaches will continue to be employed for deep-strike missions, a new study by the think tank Rand argues that all-weather “fast mover” fixed-wing aircraft can do those missions more effectively than either the Apache or the Army Tactical Missile System.

The study compared Army and Air Force missions to strike deep targets in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, as well as during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It concluded that the Apache and the missile system performed deep-strike missions poorly.

The Best Upgrade?
One of the best upgrades fielded to Army aviation crews may well be the Micro Climate Cooling System. This is a liquid-filled vest worn next to the skin that is connected by a flexible tube to a 12-lb box that circulates coolant through the vest. It has a quick-disconnect link that allows users to move around the aircraft as necessary and a rheostat to allow them to control the coolant temperature. Army aviation leaders note with interest the comments of one Lt. Col. Paul Ambrose, who wrote:

“I wanted to thank you and everyone else that had a part in getting us the Micro Climate Cooling System. I just got back from my first flight with it a couple of hours ago. We flew 5.5 hr in 120F and it worked awesome. The crew agreed this system is the best thing we’ve done for the helicopter since we put a rotor on it!”

Ambrose went on to say that the system “greatly enhances the crew’s comfort level and significantly reduces fatigue. I flew a similar mission two days ago without the system and I can personally attest that the heat is becoming our most dangerous threat. Without the system, after only a couple hours of flying you find yourself fatigued and droning. Whereas today, the crew was as fresh after 5.5 hr. as when we first strapped it on.

“Bottom line: This is an awesome system that greatly reduces the risks levels to our soldiers over here,” Ambrose concluded. His experience with the system came as commander of Task Force Renegade with the 1st of the 159th Aviation Regiment, operating from Logistics Support Area Anaconda in Iraq.

Expanding Night Vision
Early next year, a U.S. Army cargo helicopter is to fly with the Modernized Pilot’s Night Vision Sensor developed for the AH -64D Apache Longbow. Lockheed Martin is developing a MPNV S turret for the aircraft that is interchangeable with the Apache turrets.

The system was developed to allow Apache pilots for fly in total darkness. It is being adapted for CH-47 Chinooks and UH-60 Black Hawks to address the chronic problem of “brown-out” conditions in Iraq, which is a top concern of Army aviation leaders.

The M-PNV S long-wave thermal imager is capable of “seeing” through the dust clouds to show a distinct horizon, even in very low-visibility conditions, according to Lockheed Martin.

Decisions are expected late this month and early next from the U.S. General Accountability Office on protests of the June 30 award of a preliminary, $43-million award for this program to a team led by EA DS North America, which had proposed the EC145. MD Helicopters protested, arguing that the Army violated its own procurement rules and criteria. It also said the Army misconstrued the company’s MD902 Explorer bid, rating it $300 million higher than EA DS when, in fact, it was $500 million lower. AgustaWestland, which had bid the AW139, also protested the award. The GAO has said it will rule on MD’s protest by Oct. 23 and AgustaWestland’s about two weeks later. Bell, which proposed its 412EP , did not protest. The Army plans to buy 322 Light Utility Helicopters off-the-shelf for active duty, National Guard and Reserve units. The FA -certified LUH is supposed to replace UH-1H Hueys and OH -58A/C Kiowas in the continental United States and deploy to non-combat theaters for corps and division jobs too small for the 22,000- lb. Black Hawk.

The primary role for the LUH is logistical and administrative support, but missions range from carrying two Guardsmen on reconnaissance and interdiction detachment (RAI D) patrols for rural marijuana patches to hauling emergency-response teams into national disasters.

The Army wanted the first two aircraft delivered by December, with the first unit to be equipped by late 2007. The protests stopped all work on the program.

The U.S. Army/Bell Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter prototype made its first July 20 after overcoming development, installation and integration problems with its advanced avionics suite.

The YRH -70A took off from Bell XworX in Arlington, Texas and flew multiple handling maneuvers, in a hover both in and out of ground effect, and in a traffic pattern reaching 80 kt and 500 ft altitude, with banks up to 30 deg for a little more than 1.5 hr of flight.

ARH program officials originally intended to fly the prototype in March, but then, Army and Bell officials said, they decided to try make the four System Design and Development prototype aircraft more representative of the final production configuration. They came up with a plan to use a 407 as a test bed for integration of the ARH ’s Rockweil Collins Common Avionics Architecture System and Bell’s 417 prototype as an engine test bed. The ARH and 417 use a common engine, the Honeywell HT S900.

The revised plan then became to fly the prototype in May. The engine work progressed fairly well; the 417 has flown up to 130 kt. and accumulated more than 20 flight hours. But issues arose with the avionics integration that program officials decided should be resolved.

“Although the first flight date was a few months later than we had talked about it happening,” said Bell CEO Mike Redenbaugh, “there’s been a lot of work done in that time frame to allow us to hold the same end date, which is first unit equipped in September 2008.

Completion of the build and functional test of the remaining three test aircraft would clear the path towards a Limited Users Test and finishing the production design. The program schedule calls for the Limited Users Test to begin late this year or early 2007, in order to complete the production award criteria required to accomplish the first unit equipped in late Fiscal 2008 and full-rate production in Fiscal 2009. A successful user test would launch low-rate initial production for up to 48 aircraft, including 30 to stand up the first unit. Full-rate production would run through 2013.

It remains to be seen what the budget turmoil will do to this program. While the request for proposals called for an acquisition of 368 ARHs, the Army’s program manager, Lt. Col. Neil Thurgood, said in May that the service was looking to buy 480 aircraft. The additional aircraft would free Regular Army Apaches for assignment to National Guard units.

Meanwhile, work is progressing on the ARH ’s powerplant. A 925-shp Honeywell HT S900-1 engine underwent its first ground run in an ARH prototype on May 8 and the dual-centrifugal compressor for the upgraded, 970-shp HT S900-2 for the aircraft completed its first rig test May 5.

The Army has designated the aircraft the YRH -70A (“Y” for prototype), but has yet to name it. Production ARH s will integrate a FLIR Systems BriteStar 2 electro- optical chin turret and the Rockwell Collins Common Avionics Architecture System (CAA S) to provide networkcentric connectivity. Armament would include Hellfire missiles, Hydra 70 rockets and the General Dynamics 50- cal. GAU-19/A Gatling gun. The Army has re-opened the competition for an Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System to give the ARH, Apache and other helicopters an inexpensive alternative to the laser-designated Hellfire.

The ARH s are needed to offset the combat attrition and high operational tempos that have been taking their toll on the Kiowa Warrior fleet, the perennial retirement candidate that, like the Energizer Bunny, seems to go on and on. Operation Iraqi Freedom alone has cost more than 28 OH -58Ds. There are 350- odd survivors, which include some of the most reliable and most active in theater.

Boeing’s newest AH -64D Apache Longbow was piloted by Maj. Gen. Virgil Packett, the new commander of the Army’s Aviation Warfighting Center to an Aug. 9 delivery ceremony at Boeing’s Mesa, Ariz. plant. Packett officially received the logbook and keys to Production Vehicle Delivery 501, marking the aircraft’s acceptance into the U.S. Army fleet, and completion of a decade of production valued at about $4.4 billion for Boeing.

The production line doesn’t go dark on the AH -64D. Contracts for wartime combat losses, more helicopters and international aircraft will fill the line until low-rate initial production of Block 3 Apaches begins in 2011. Boeing is to provide 96 more remanufactured AH -64Ds and 27 new-build wartime replacement aircraft.

The Apache Longbow is expected to be in service until 2035, and move through a series of upgrades and modifications along the way.

The delivery of Longbow 501 marked the end of the second of two multi-year contracts. The first five-year contract, valued at about $1.8 billion to Boeing, involved 232 remanufactured aircraft, training, and the first interactive electronic technical manuals.

The second five-year multi-year contract, valued at about $2.6 billion to Boeing, included aircraft improvements, training, life-cycle contractor support and improved electronic manuals.

Boeing and the Army in July signed the system development and demonstration (SDD) phase contract for the Block 3 AH -64D Apache Longbow program.

The contract provides funding for the development, test and qualification of Block 3 technologies and capabilities. Previously signed and executed contracts for risk-reduction engineering work were valued collectively at $66.1 million.

“This new contract supports the long-term modernization of the Army’s Apache helicopters,” said Scott Rudy, Boeing Apache Block 3 program manager.

The Block 3 Apache Longbow provides network-centric warfare capabilities for the Army’s current and future force. Incorporating open systems architecture, wideband network communications, extended range sensing, missiles and fire control radar, level 4 unmanned aerial vehicle control and data fusion to merge off- and on-board sensor imagery, the Block 3 multi-role combat helicopter enables battlespace dominance. Other key benefits to the U.S. Army include a reduced logistics footprint and improved readiness and deployability.

The contract will ensure that Army warfighters and joint operations forces commanders are equipped with a modernized helicopter that can deploy and interface effectively with joint forces, coordinating information and weapons capabilities in battle.

Those developments came as the Apache surpassed 2.1 million flight hours, according to recently released U.S. Army operational summary data.

Nearly one-third of all flight hours have occurred in the past four years, including almost 700,000 hr since the global war on terrorism began following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Apache helicopters continue to fly hundreds of hours a month in Iraq and Afghanistan in support of peacekeeping operations.

The summary data, compiled from U.S. Army Apache deployments around the world, indicates the combat helicopter fleet reached the 2-million-flight-hour milestone in late 2005.

AH -64As, which first entered service with the Army in 1984, have logged more than 1.6 million flight hours. AH -64D Apaches have logged more than 400,000 flight hours.

Meanwhile, the Army awarded Lockheed Martin a $16-million contract to provide 37 AN /APR -48A Radar Frequency Interferometer systems for the AH -64D Apache Longbow.

Black Hawks
The first and second low-rate initial production (LRIP ) UH-60M Black Hawks and for aircraft from the program’s previous Integration and Qualification (IQ) phase are to enter Army operational testing and evaluation (OT &E) this month. The army plans to equip a combat unit with the UH-60M shortly after completion of OT &E.

The UH-60M provides additional payload and range, advanced digital avionics, better handling qualities and situational awareness, active vibration control, improved survivability, and improved producibility.

Sikorsky Aircraft on July 31 delivered the Army’s first production UH- 60M Black Hawk.

With a new airframe, avionics and propulsion system, the UH-60M is the latest and most modern in a series of Black Hawk variants that Sikorsky has been delivering to the army since 1978.

“The UH-60M will provide reduced pilot workload, increased lift, better protection and enhanced survivability,” said Sikorsky President Jeff Pino, a retired U.S. Army Master Aviator with 26 years combined active, reserve and National Guard duty. “The new UH- 60M Black Hawk is ideally suited for its mission and provides a safer, more responsive, deployable, versatile and effective weapon system for the army.”

The army has more than 1,500 Black Hawk variants with more than 4.6 million combined flight hours in inventory, constituting the world’s largest and most battle-tested Black Hawk fleet. The UH-60M variant is slated to replace older Black Hawks and form the foundation of the army’s future utility aircraft fleet.

“The Black Hawk is a great aircraft, the nation’s battlefield transport of choice,” Pino said. “With the UH- 60M, the army and Sikorsky are ready to build upon that tradition and ensure the Black Hawk will continue in that role for generations to come.”

The UH-60M is LRIP , the final phase in a defense acquisition program before a full-rate production decision is made. A decision by the Pentagon and army to enter full rate production of 1,200 or more UH-60M Black Hawks is scheduled for 2007. Exact procurement numbers year-to-year and across the life of the program will be determined by budget authorizations and specific contract awards.

The initial LRIP aircraft delivered at July’s end is the second “new-build” UH-60M. Seven of the eight UH-60Ms produced in the previous IQ phase of the program were made from older aircraft taken from the fleet and rebuilt to the new UH-60M configuration. The eight IQ aircraft have compiled more than 850 flight hours since September 2003.

The UH-60M is intended to become an integral part of the Army’s command and control system, providing brigade commanders with real-time digital situational awareness and command and control options. UH-60M crews will benefit from reduced pilot workload and a new standard of protection.

The UH-60M’s new composite spar wide-chord blade will provide 500 lb (227 kg) more lift than the current UH-60L blade. The new General Electric T700-GE-701D engine will add more horsepower and allow additional lift during external lift (sling load) operations.

The new cockpit contains four Rockwell Collins multi-function displays providing primary flight, navigation, and tactical information including a fully integrated digital map, Blue Force Tracking, Stormscope lightning sensor, radar/laser warning system and a fully coupled autopilot. The narrower cockpit instrument panel will also significantly improve chin window visibility.

The UH-60M also will feature two Canadian Marconi (CMC) electronic flight management systems, dual Honeywell embedded global positioning/ inertial navigation systems and an integrated vehicle health management system (IVHM S) from Goodrich.

The IVHM S comprises a health and usage monitoring system (HUMS), crash-survivable cockpit voice and flight data recorder and a water-activated acoustic beacon, all contained within a single line replaceable unit.

The Army Special Operations Command plans to replace its mixed fleet of 45 MH -60Ks and Ls with standardized MH -60Ms delivered from 2008 to 2014. The command has already taken the first UH-60M test aircraft for modification and test. L- 3 Communications Integrated Systems was awarded a contract last April to modify two MH - 60Ms—one to be converted from a UH-60M with -701D engines and the other integrated with General Electric CT7-8 B5 turboshafts. Flight tests with the 2,600-shp alternate engines begin in 2007.

Boeing in mid-June delivered the first production CH-47F Chinook helicopter to the Army during a rollout ceremony at its plant near Philadelphia. The aircraft is the first of 452 new CH-47F heavy-transport helicopters included in the Army Cargo Helicopter modernization program.

“The CH-47F is a 21st-century aircraft,” said Jack Dougherty, director, Boeing Chinook Programs. “It provides the system and the solutions to meet the needs of soldiers today and tomorrow.”

“This is truly a great day for the Army, Army aviation, and most of all, our soldiers,” said the then-Army Cargo Helicopter program manager, Col. Tim Crosby. “This aircraft, delivered on cost and on schedule, marks the beginning of a long production run that is a keystone in Army aviation’s transformation.”

The aircraft features a newly designed, modernized airframe and the Rockwell Collins Common Avionics Architecture System advanced digital cockpit.

The new airframe uses modern manufacturing techniques that replace multiple-piece sheet metal structures with single-piece machined components. The new components will reduce operating and support costs, improve the aircraft’s structural integrity and extend the Chinook’s service life.

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