An OH-58 Kiowa takes off in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army)
Army officials hoped to have a decision in hand on its stalled Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) helicopter program in mid-December, when officers briefed vice chief of staff of the Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III on the results of last summer’s visits with potential competitors in the quest to upgrade or replace the service’s aging Kiowa Warrior fleet.
But instead of giving a go/no go, Austin instructed his team to go back and dig up more information about what inspectors discovered during the visits with industry teams, Col. John Lynch, TRADOC capability manager told reporters at a Jan. 8 breakfast meeting hosted by Boeing. Austin also wanted more information on manned/unmanned teaming, and greater detail on lifecycle costs.
While service officials are set to brief Austin again later this month, Lynch warned that a final decision on what to do with the AAS program won’t come before 2014, given the current uncertainty over the defense budget and the fact that Austin has been nominated to take over the U.S. Central Command, which means that a new vice chief of the Army will have to nominated, and assume office.
“It’s an affordability question for the Army” Lynch said, since the service has several other programs that demand expensive overhaul programs, including the Kiowa Warrior itself.
The Army already has plans to fund the Kiowa Cockpit and Sensor Upgrade Program for roughly $3.8 million per aircraft.
“The clock we’re racing against,” Lynch said, “are upgrades to the Kiowa Warrior” which would essentially make the program too expensive to replace.
Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, has set a cost goal of $13 million to $15 million per aircraft, a number Lynch said was achievable.
The overall goal of the AAS program is to either replace all of Vietnam-era Kiowa Warrior aircraft by 2030, or to undertake an extensive overhaul of the current fleet.
The Army has already scuttled two attempts to replace the Kiowa Warrior, shutting down the RAH-66 Comanche in 2004 and the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter in 2008, “so let's make sure we're being very deliberate and we actually get this one right, because it's probably the last chance," in the foreseeable future to get it done, Lynch said.
The Army has said that the current Kiowa fleet is plagued by numerous capability gaps that it hope to fill, including a limited lift and maneuvering capability, a lack of weapon load carrying capacity, and lack of multinational interoperability.
During last year’s industry visits, Army officials were able to see the capabilities of Boeing’s AH-6 Little Bird, while AgustaWestland flew its AW139M, a variant of the AW139 helicopter flown by military and law enforcement customers around the world. EADS International also demonstrated a variant of its Lakota light utility helicopter, and Sikorsky submitted its S-97 Raider for inspection.