Although the Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) program could be officially declared as “off and running” with the announcement of a Request for Information (RfI) on April 25 by U.S. Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal (ACC-RSA), there should be no expectation that this will result in a major new technology-based program.
The AAS requirement is intended to replace the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior which has been kept way beyond its original out-of-service date due to huge cost overruns of the Boeing/Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche program and, following that, the canceling of the Bell ARH-70 Arapaho for similar reasons.
Maj. Gen. William ‘Tim’ Crosby, U.S. Army Program Executive Officer (PEO), speaking at Quad-A (the annual gathering of U.S. Army Aviation) only a month ago, said that the need for an armed manned reconnaissance helicopter had been identified by working on an analysis of alternatives (AoA) and that the RfI and subsequent non-competitive fly-off would help to validate what was available and feasible for the U.S. Army to consider. Talk of the manned-unmanned option once included in briefs has been quietly dropped.
Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, commander, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Crosby both underlined the need for Army Aviation to take an appetite suppressant when considering the AAS. Largely due to the impending need to severely reduce spending and therefore ambition, they are publicly talking about an 80 percent solution to the problem of replacing the 300 or so Kiowa Warriors. The reconnaissance helicopter is still in high demand supporting troops on the ground in contact, but end-date of the mission in Afghanistan set for 2015, the urgency for the fielding of the AAS, which would now enter service after the withdrawal, is substantially reduced. Realistically it is heading for a “stop gap” solution with new technology in the “nice to have” rather than “must have” column.
The RfI and fly-off are designed to give those decision makers a set of capabilities that can be measured to validate a full and complete AoA. Above all they are looking for low-risk, cost-efficient option.
In analyzing his alternatives, Crosby said that to do nothing was not an option. He said that the cockpit and sensor upgrade program (CASUP) would take the capability of those aircraft upgraded to an OH-58F state, which would push their service lives out to around 2025.
Crosby’s full line of thought on the matter was revealed in his address to the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces Committee at the House of Representatives on March 27:
“With the current budget environment, there is no way we are going to be able to implement all the new capabilities for the future of the entire aviation fleet plus a new start AAS right now. So we have developed a strategy that states: take risk in the scout area and focus on that new Future Vertical Lift (FVL) capability down the road with an Aim Point of 2030.”
He continued, “Our path forward with the AAS does not involve a fly-off, but rather a demonstration which will enable us to make an informed decision on a path ahead and to find a materiel solution to replace or extend the current fleet of our aging OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters. The AAS demo will clearly define whether we execute a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) of the OH-58 aircraft, consistent with what we have done to the other platforms, or if we pursue an alternative material solution option that represents a medium risk program with achievable and affordable requirements within the current and future fiscal environment.”
Crosby further qualified that point at Quad-A a couple weeks later, “There may be something out there that is better than the SLEP today—and the only way we are going to know that is to demo. It is not, repeat not, a fly off. It is not a competition. It is in the band between what the Kiowa with the SLEP is and what the AAS requirement is, and we are looking at what that delta would be and whether it would be worth taxing some other system within our portfolio to pay for it—there isn’t going to be more investment in our portfolio.”
Questions that would help mold the decision on acquisition, he said, included: “Is the improvement worth the investment? How much does it cost to buy it, put it in the sustainment system and put it in the training system. Then there is the cost to retiring the old system.”
Regarding the fly-off, he stated that the Army will have “a portable instrumentation package. Each [participating company] will be flying the same scenarios and we will go to their locations.”
Following that, he said, there would be an industry day for vendors where they could get any further questions answered.
So FVL is now the real target—especially when it comes to affordability.
“We are focused on the future vertical lift—it is a cost conscious decision, a capability based decision, and we are focused on the medium variant,” said Crosby. “Why? Because 75% of the fleet is in the medium variant.”
The RfI states that the ASAS should be: “a commercial, commercial-modified, military, conceptual air vehicle technologies, performance capabilities and technical data in support of the potential acquisition of an Armed Aerial Scout air vehicle.”
The fly-off is, “a voluntary flight demonstration of their existing air vehicles to display the state of the art in regard to helicopter systems and subsystem(s) technologies.”