The first CH-47 Block II makes its maiden flight March 28 at Boeing's plant outside Philadelphia. (Boeing photo)
Concerned that canceling Block II upgrades for the Army’s CH-47F Chinook helicopters could harm Boeing [BA] and its supply chain, the House Armed Services Committee wants to more than double program funding next fiscal year.
The Army requested $18.2 million in advanced procurement for the CH-47F Block II upgrade program in its fiscal 2020 budget submission to Congress. HASC wants to bump that to $46.2 million and calls on the Secretary of the Army by Sept. 2 to report “on the potential readiness impacts to the current CH-47F fleet should Block II production be delayed post-FYDP, a cost-benefit analysis comparing CH-47 Block II upgrade program to CH-47F remanufacture efforts, the impacts to current MH-47G aircraft production given the delay of Block II production, analysis used to assess the strategic risk to the industrial base including the supplier base, and the current strategy for modernizing the heavy-lift rotorcraft fleet,” according to the committee’s mark of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.
The service’s five-year spending plan called for no follow-on funding for the Block II program, which boosts the heavylift helicopter drivetrain, avionics and rotors and achieves at least 1,500 pounds of additional lift at 4,000 feet elevation in 95-degree temperatures.
Three engineering and manufacturing development aircraft are funded. The Army plans to make a decision whether to proceed with low-rate initial production (LRIP) in fiscal 2021.
HASC notes in its mark the Army’s own analysis of alternatives found the service must begin to remanufacture Block I Chinooks between fiscal years 2024 and 2028 and sustain full-rate production of 12 aircraft per year by fiscal year 2030 to maintain fleet readiness.
“Given the lack of programmed funding in the [future years defense plan] for CH-47 Block II production, the committee is concerned about potential impacts this could have on the heavy-lift rotorcraft industrial base, as well as the effects this could have on the Army’s longterm plans to maintain fleet readiness beyond the FYDP,” the HASC mark says. “Therefore, the committee recommends $46.2 million, an increase of $28.0 million, in CH-47 Helicopter advanced procurement for the CH-47F Block II aircraft.
One Block II EMD Chinook has been completed and the other two are in final assembly at Boeing’s plant outside Philadelphia. The first completed aircraft on June 11 arrived in Mesa, Arizona — where it will begin its development flight test program — following a four-day, 2,500-mile cross-country flight from Philadelphia.
The Army had previously planned to upgrade its entire fleet of 542 Chinooks to the Block II configuration, but the service’s FY ’20 budget proposal includes funds for only nine Special Operations Command MH-47Gs. Only the MH-47G Block II variant is included in the out years, not the CH-47F configuration, of which production was due to start in fiscal 2021.