Army Wants to See Potential Scout Choppers Fly

The Army’s top aviation officials just offered up a little more detail on the service’s effort to modernize or replace its aging fleet of OH-58 Kiowa Warrior scout choppers, at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference here in Washington.

Basically, the service hopes to host a flight demonstration — not a fly off — for defense contractors to show off their bids to replace the Army’s OH-58 Kiowa Warrior armed scout helos. The demo will help the Army decide if it’s worth it to buy a new fleet of scout choppers — a move that could take cash away from other projects — or put the OH-58s through a service life extension program, known as a SLEP.

The service can’t afford to develop brand new scout chopper design so the helos offered up by industry will likely be updated versions of existing designs, according to Crosby.

This means that the Army will only evaluate designs that are already flying, no Powerpoint slides. As Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, the Army’s top aircraft buyer put it, if a company doesn’t have a flying aircraft, it “can’t play” in the April demo.

Crosby is asking for about $8 million to host a demo that can accommodate up to five vendors.

The service will weigh the cost of buying, maintaining, deploying and training for any new scout chopper versus the cost of “SLEPing” the Kiowa Warriors.

This comes as the Army is looking to develop and field a brand new fleet of attack and utility helos, under the Joint Multirole (JMR) program, by 2030, said Crosby. This means the service must be very careful in how it spends its cash on things like the scout program lest it gobbles up cash meant for the JMR effort, warned Crosby.

The Army should be able to wrap up the evaluation of what it should do to deal with its aging OH-58s a few months after the April demo, Crosby told DT.

  • traindodger

    They should focus on the new JMR fleet instead of upgrading existing rotary-wing craft. I say that because I’m thinking that the logistics and upkeep for the wide range of helicopters currently in service is getting to be ridiculous due to the low parts commonality between a lot of different model ranges.

    There are a lot of aging Cold War-era whirlybirds out there, still in service after all these years. Sooner or later, it’s going to be impossible to keep them flying. They should scrap them and replace them with a new range of aircraft that have cutting-edge performance and active protection measures to keep them from getting shot down by Taliban fighters and other low-intensity warfare threats.

    Then again, I’m just a civilian. What would I know?

    • SJE

      I disagree. We could be waiting for years for the JMR, and it might be overbudget, unperforming, etc. From my understanding, the current fleet of helos is aging rapidly due to heavy use in combat, and we could be facing a shortage if too many are taken off line for repairs. We need to be thinking about this now.

  • Joe Boyum

    OH-6. Already in the inventory. Because god knows if we look to buy the best hardware out there we will end up with a KC-X beef all over again.

    • TMB

      I’m thinking the JMR will end up being an EFV or F-35 type scenario where the Army thinks it can get one airframe to do everything and it’ll end up exploding its budget and do poorly at all those different tasks.

      • EPL1

        The Army better not screw up the JMR. By 2030 if we can’t field a new range of helos by then Army Aviation is screwed. Blackhawks, Chinooks, Apaches…these will easily last till then, but any further is really pushing it.

      • TMB

        I’m taking a half-step back here. I read a few articles that I could find on the JMR program and it looks like they want to develop an attack helicopter, medium lift, and heavy lift helicopters with common electronics, cockpits, and sensors rather than merging two disparate birds. I really hope that’s the case and these common components are ready to go when the airframes are coughLCScough.

    • FormerDirtDart

      Only problem with the OH-6 family of A/C, they really need to extend their range 40-50% to match up with the competitors

  • Hunter78

    A demonstration, not a fly-off,… meaning they can decide after the fact whom to throw billions at.

  • Joe Schmoe

    Am I the only one who fails to find the need for a scout chopper in the age of man-portable UAV’s, and UAV’s in general?

  • m167a1

    Feature creep killed the ARH-72, they kept bolting stuff on it until it could no longer meet goals.

    As EPL said, this isn’t that hard of a project. Just decide what you want and quit changing your mind. There are several types out there that would fit the bill. While EADS did fine on the UH-72 I would personally prefer a Bell, Boeing, Sikorski (SP?)
    or whatever MD helicopters is calling themselves this week.

    An updated MD explorer or AH-6 variant would be my first thought.

  • Stephen N Russell

    Revamp the Bell 222 to repalce Kiowas Or reengine Kiowas & improve weapons systems???

  • Kski

    Look at it this. Yes the Kiowa has been around the block. Yes it has had a good service life. But is it really time to look at a replacement or SLEP upgrade? An really in the long run, how much dose a SLEP cost?

  • jamesb

    I think the Army’s idea is smart….

    I see NO ONE here has mentioned ANY Augusta or other foreign designs, eh?

    Off the shelf IS the way to go….

  • patmac

    Why does Gen. Crosby need $8M to “host a demo”? One would think that if companies have helo’s to sell, they would foot the bill to bring them to the show. No wonder the DoD budgets are getting ridicules. He must be planning on serving the DoJ’s $16 muffins.

  • BB1984

    Here’s an alternative view: the decision has already been made to SLEP the 58Ds. The problem is that Army’s repeated statements in the past that it needs new air frames to replace the 58 and the Army’s subsequent bungling of the replacement programs make just asking for the SLEP politically tricky and more than a little embarrassing.

    Solution: hold a “fly off” with no specific criteria and no guarantee of a winner being selected, rule out Sikorsky’s new technology that is right around the corner to keep that off the table, and then juggle criteria until the “SLEP” is clearly the only alternative to go with. Instead of taking flak for their repeated scout helo development failures in the past, the Army gets praise for being open to new ideas but choosing the fiscally responsible “cost effective” SLEP route. Problem solved.

  • blight

    I think what patmac may mean is that companies should reimburse the military for the cost of setting up the demo. The idea should be that they are buying into a procurement contract, not that the government is rolling out the red carpet of money and cost overruns just because the generals want a board seat when its time to collect pension and Tricare.

  • Indian Medicine

    You Cav & Stryker types understand what these “Birds” do for the Battlefield Abilities and Combat Power.
    As to “new designs”, the MWO is the most Practical during these tough times, yet still have air / ground Direct Air Support Integrity when needed.
    This and A10, are a formidable dedicated Ground Support asset.

  • BB1984

    I believe citanon is correct: the decision has already been made to SLEP the 58s. This leads to a public relations problem: the Army has been on capitol hill since the early commanche days insisting it needs new airframes and now it is coming up asking for a huge program to SLEP the old ones.

    The solution to this problem is to hold a fly off and exclude Sikorsky’s advanced technology to ensure that the results can be gamed to show the SLEP as the best alternative. Then the Army goes back to the hill showing how flexible and open to innovation they are but darn it, the SLEP is the most cost-effective option. Instead of getting grilled for bungling their scout replacement programs in the past they are praised for their willingness to just take a “good enough” solution. We’re just be treating to more procurement kabuki theater, not a real fly off.

    If will also show Sikorsky, and through them all of the other manufacturers, that the Army is calling the shots and private efforts that show how fast and cheap development of a radically improved helicopters should be are not welcome.

    • Matt

      Or the Army just wants to see what scout helos are around now instead of 2(+) years… Sikorsky’s X-2 based designs can help them shine w/the JMR contract.

    • BB1984

      Here’s my thinking: Sikorsky’s work gives it a huge advantage from when they can bring it on line (a year or two) till 5-10 years out when competitors have had time to copy it , do parallel development and/or work on their own high performance concepts. Time line varies but this is the cycle with all new aviation technologies.

      Then the Army comes out and says they want one helicopter right now and one about ten years from now. You couldn’t come up with a better strategy to screw Sikorsky. We can argue about whether that is on purpose or not, but I don’t see how you can argue Sikorsky doesn’t come out a big loser in all this.

  • Cortland

    Airframes, and particularly high-vibration systems like helicopters, fatigue quickly. and fatigue in aluminum is cumulative. Eventually, you have to replace or rebuild the entire load bearing stricture. from engine and transmission boxes to to reskinning. At some point it will cost more to keep old system going than it would have cost to replace them IF a *mission-oriented* procurement plan had been in effect.

    Hidden costs are paid in blood and defeat.