U.S. Army helo fleet undergoes facelift
Since the dramatic cancellation of the stealthy Comanche attack helicopter in 2004, U.S. Army aviation has used the released funds to embark on a major rejuvenation by modernizing and augmenting the existing AH-64, UH-60 and CH-47 fleets, as well as procuring two new types. While the now-defunct Comanche program was a revolutionary design that promised to transform the battlefield, current procurement centers on a more evolutionary approach based on two existing off-the-shelf types–Bell’s Model 407 and Eurocopter’s EC 145.
The U.S. Army unveiled its Aviation Transformation Plan (ATP-04) in late February 2004. In addition to restructuring the aviation units in the light of experience from the global war on terror, the new plan outlined a major revitalization of the helicopter fleet. The centerpiece of ATP-04 was the shock cancellation of the RAH-66 Comanche helicopter program, which released $14.6 billion.
However, the existing scout/ light attack helicopter–the Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior–would need replacing, and around $3 billion of the funds were reallocated to a program called Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH). A proposal request for this was issued in December 2004.
ARH-70 Is Born
ARH specified an aircraft that was available commercially off-the-shelf (COTS) and equipped with nondevelopmental item (NDI) equipment. Like the OH-58D, it had to be capable of operating from U.S. Navy vessels and had to be air-transportable by C-5 (16 ARHs), C-17 (eight) and C-130 (two) fixed-wing transports, as well as be operational within 15 minutes of being unloaded. It would have a standard crew of two, but be able to operate with a single pilot.
Bell (Model 407) and Boeing (version of AH-6M Little Bird) responded to the RFP, and on July 29, 2005, Bell was declared the winner. Dubbed the ARH-70A, Bell’s scout is based on the civilian Model 407, but features the Honeywell HTS900 engine in place of the Rolls-Royce 250-C47B. The HTS900 is a development of the T800 developed for the canceled Comanche.
Unlike the OH-58D, which has a mast-mounted sight, the ARH-70 carries its primary sensors in a chin turret. The target acquisition sensor suite includes imaging infrared, low-light color TV and laser rangefinder/designator/pointer/spot-tracker. Weapon pylons allow the carriage of various gun and rocket pods, and up to four Hellfire missiles.
The ARH-70 has a suite of radar (ALR-39B) and missile (AAR-47) warning systems, plus chaff/flare dispensers. These systems were tested on a demonstrator aircraft (retaining Rolls-Royce power) that first flew at Bell’s XworX facility at Arlington, Texas, on June 2, 2005.
While civilian Model 407s are built at Mirabel, Quebec, military ARH-70 production is being undertaken at Amarillo, Texas. Under the initial ATP-04 plan some 368 ARH-70As were required, 270 of which were for active component units, 30 for the National Guard and 38 for training. This figure has been subsequently increased.
Procurement began in Fiscal Year 2007 and a total of 430 have been ordered so far for delivery through FY2013. This figure includes four aircraft added as a supplement to FY07, and 29 added to the FY08 figure as a global war on terror supplement. Total procurement is expected to reach 512.
The first of four SDD aircraft flew at Arlington on July 20, 2006. On February 21 this year the program suffered a setback when one of the trial aircraft crashed on a golf course after it lost power during a test flight. In March, the Army ordered Bell to stop work and review growing costs.
Operational fielding is now expected in late 2009 rather than mid-2008 as originally planned. ARHs will replace the OH-58D in attack reconnaissance battalions (ARB) and cavalry squadrons (CAV), each of which will have 30 helicopters assigned. The three medium combat aviation brigades (CAB) will each have one cavalry squadron assigned, while the two light CABs will have one ARB and one CAV assigned. Later, ARH-70s will replace AH-64 Apaches with the ARBs of the six aviation expeditionary brigades.
Under ATP-04, the U.S. Army also specified a new utility helicopter to replace many of the remaining UH-1 Hueys and OH-58A/C Kiowas that operate in support roles. A draft RFP was issued in November 2004, followed by a formal RFP in July 2005. The light utility helicopter would again be a COTS type with an FAA type certificate, fitted with NDI equipment. Four manufacturers responded to the RFP, covering a range of sizes from the 15-passenger AgustaWestland US139 and 13-passenger Bell 412EP, to the eight-passenger EADS North America/Eurocopter EC 145 and the seven-passenger MD Helicopters MD 902 Explorer.
On June 30, 2006, the Army selected the Eurocopter design, assigning it the designation UH-72A. As well as the large sliding doors on each side of the cabin, the EC 145 also has clamshell doors in the rear of the cabin, allowing for the easy loading/unloading of stretcher cases, in particular. Power is provided by two Turbomeca Arriel 1E2 turboshafts.
Before the army selected its design, Eurocopter began construction of two aircraft, which were shipped to American Eurocopter’s U.S. plant at Columbus, Mississippi, for assembly. The first example was handed over to the U.S. Army there on Dec. 11, 2006. The Columbus plant will assume an ever greater responsibility for construction and assembly as the program moves forward.
Procurement funding was provided for a first batch of 16 aircraft in the FY06 budget. Through FY2013 a total of 268 have been ordered, with another 54 required to raise total procurement to an expected 322 helicopters. Of this figure, 204 are for the Army National Guard and 118 for active component units.
Thirty-two UH-72As will be assigned to a single security and surveillance battalion (SSB) within the six aviation expeditionary brigades manned by the Army National Guard. Each SSB will be divided into four companies with eight helicopters each.
Three companies will be assigned to security and surveillance duties, mainly directed toward civil support operations and homeland defense. Duties will include firefighting, civilian search and rescue and anti-drug activities such as maritime, border and inland waterway/highway patrol, for which the UH-72As will be equipped with FLIR and other sensors. The fourth company within the SSB will be an air ambulance unit.
While the SSBs are not intended for operations in areas where there is an air threat, and are consequently mainly for continental U.S. (CONUS)-based operations, they will be available for deployment overseas for certain policing and support operations.
UH-72As for the active component will be used for a variety of support tasks such as installation security at test sites, observer platforms at combat training centers, trials support and other utility transport and liaison tasks. Most will be based in CONUS, but 18 are expected to be based in Germany.