Paris Air Show

Regardless of CSAR outcome, Chinook will last decades more

 - June 14, 2007, 9:20 AM

Boeing is confident that its HH-47 rotorcraft will be reconfirmed as the winner of the
potential $10 billion U.S. Air Force combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) competition. But even without adding the 141 helicopters required for CSAR, the evergreen Chinook looks set for at least two more decades of production for the U.S. Army and international customers.

The three competing bidders for CSAR are required to submit their revised proposals by tomorrow. Last November, Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky protested the choice of the HH-47 over their rival submissions, respectively the US 101 version of AgustaWestland’s EH 101 and the HH-92 derivative of the S-92. Boeing’s bid was based on the MH-47G version of the Chinook, which is already in service with U.S. Army Special Forces. Its argument that the US 101 or the S-92 would need significant development to meet the CSAR requirement for terrain following and avoidance evidently played well in the Pentagon’s evaluation. But Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky argued for a lighter and more agile helicopter for this mission; Sikorsky claimed the lowest life-cycle costs for its contender.

Dave Palm, director of business development for Boeing Rotorcraft Systems, noted that the U.S. Government Accountability Office upheld only one of the 25 protest items submitted by the two rival CSAR contenders. That item does indeed refer to the operation and support costs, and only this aspect of the competition is being rebid, according to Palm. Another Boeing spokesman noted that the protest process had revealed the unit cost of Boeing’s HH-47 bid to be about $2 million more than the US 101, but only “a few hundred thousand dollars” more than the S-92.

The CH-47F is the core model that keeps the Chinook production line at Philadelphia humming. The U.S. Army plans to buy no fewer than 452 Chinooks through 2022, a mix of new-builds (113) and what Boeing calls “renewals” (339). This means a new airframe that uses overhauled dynamic components from a CH-47D, including a new cockpit section featuring a glass cockpit largely provided by Honeywell that conforms to the Army’s common avionics architecture systems (CAAS), a digital automatic flight control system, a redesigned center section, advanced communications and enhanced defensive countermeasures.

The MH-47Gs are “remanufactured” CH-47Ds, meaning a complete strip-down (which is subcontracted to Summit Aerospace), then addition of all the features mentioned above. The “renews” and the “remans” join new-build Chinooks on the same pulsed line, which is currently being boosted to achieve a production rate of four per month.

That boost will ensure that Canada, the most recent new customer, can take delivery of its 16 CH-47Fs from 2011. Palm said that many of Boeing’s 14 international customers for the Chinook “are now serious about new or upgrade procurement of the CH-47F.” The Netherlands has already decided to buy up to nine CH-47Fs, as well as upgrade its 11 remaining CH-47Ds (two have been lost to enemy action in Afghanistan). The estimated cost of this foreign military sales deal is $652 million. Boeing is negotiating with Italy for 15 to 20 similar aircraft to replace that country’s existing fleet of CH-47Cs. It has signed an MoU with AgustaWestland to pursue that requirement.

Boeing is producing a total of 61 MH-47Gs for deep air assault and special operations missions. “The Chinook is the aircraft of choice in the war on terrorism,” said Palm. “It sustains the combat force in austere environment–such as hot and high–where few helicopters can operate.”

UK Chinooks in Limbo
Meanwhile, the UK government has still not concluded a contract with Boeing to modify eight Chinooks that were delivered in 2001, but have never entered service with the Royal Air Force. They were HC3 models intended for special forces operations and therefore differed from the RAF’s earlier HC2 models in a number of important respects, notably avionics.

For cost reasons, the RAF specified a hybrid analog/digital display. After the $520 million contract was signed, but before the eight aircraft were delivered, the UK changed its military certification requirements for safety-critical software documentation and code. It did not specify these new requirements in the contract with Boeing.

The eight aircraft have remained in limbo ever since. British defense engineers reported that they could not independently validate the software without access to the source code. In 2004, a UK government watchdog reported that it would cost an additional $250 million to bring the HC3s into service. In 2005, a UK Parliamentary inquiry blamed the procurement project team, operational requirements staff and the safety authority. In late April this year, UK Defence procurement minister Lord Drayson criticized his own officials for their tardy progress in resolving the problem.