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Aging SOF Helicopters Will Have To Fly for Decades More

May. 15, 2013 - 02:32PM   |  
By PAUL McLEARY   |   Comments
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TAMPA, FLA. — In the chaotic September 2009 rescue of New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell in northern Afghanistan by British special forces who were ferried to the mission by US special operations aircraft, Farrell’s interpreter, Sultan Munadi, and a British paratrooper were killed.

In a briefing about SOCOM’s plans for its rotary wing fleet, Col. Ramsey Bentley said that the three MH-47 choppers managed to avoid 40 rocket propelled grenades shot at them during the mission, and responded by lobbing a staggering 18,000 rounds of ammo back at the target.

The entire operation — from when the team was given the OK to go, planned the mission, flew to the target and flew back — only took about 3.5 hours, Bentley said.

And those workhorse Chinooks are going to have to shoulder quite a burden for decades to come. SOF aviators won’t be able to replace the MH-47 Chinook until the 2030s or even the 2040s when the joint Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program is planned to come on line, Bentley said.

“Our rotary wing aircraft fleet is old,” Bentley said. “We have made very good incremental improvements, but really we have not done a lot of improvement on the speed, range and lift capability of those aircraft.”

The AH-6 Little Bird Block III upgrade planned for 2017 or 2018 “is an incremental upgrade,” but Bentley said that either the Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) or light variant of the FVL program might replace the Little Bird in later decades, if either program actually happens.

Either way, Bentley said that the Little Bird, which special operators have been flying since the early 1980s, will see continued upgrades though the 2020s and 2030s until a replacement can be found.

Even further out is a possible replacement for the MH-47G Chinook, which will keep chugging until the late 2030s or 2040s, as well.

The midweight FVL is also slated to replace the Black Hawk variants that operators fly, which is due at about the same time.

“There is one caveat to that,” Bentley said. “Sikorsky currently has a product, the S-97 Raider, that is going to be in competition for the Armed Aerial Scout program. That aircraft does have FVL-like capabilities. However, I do not want to draw a parallel between AAS and FVL.”

Still, he said, the platform is a possible option to become the light variant for the FVL aircraft.

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