WASHINGTON — U.S. Special Operations Command has taken receipt of its first MH-47G Block II Chinook from Boeing on time, according to a Sept. 1 company statement.
While other helicopter pilots are envious of the technology on a special operations Chinook, its bones are old. Many of the 61 MH-47G helicopter airframes are from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, and the MH-47 is a heavier aircraft than the Chinooks in the active Army component due to the mission equipment added to the airframe over the years. A special operations Chinook weighs roughly 54,000 pounds while a conventional Chinook weighs 50,000 pounds.
“This delivery marks a major step for the Chinook program,” Andy Builta, Boeing’s H-47 program manager, said in the statement. “The new Chinook will give U.S. Special Operations Forces significantly more capability for extremely challenging missions and will enable them to conduct those missions on the future battlefield.”
The upgrades in the Block II version include newly designed rotorblades, major changes to the drive system and other improvements like non-segmented fuel cells. The aircraft is expected to buy back roughly 4,000 pounds of additional load capacity and adds range capability.
The Army approved the Chinook Block II effort to move into the engineering and manufacturing development phase in April 2017, and the program officially began in July 2017. Boeing produced three aircraft for flight tests, but the helicopter SOCOM has received is the first production-grade aircraft to come off the line to be used in operational missions.
Boeing is on contract to deliver 23 more MH-47Gs, after minting a deal with SOCOM at the end of July.
While the Army originally planned to buy 542 Bock II Chinooks — 473 “F” models and 69 “G” models — the service decided to cut the planned acquisition in its fiscal 2020 budget request with plans to purchase only G models for special operations.
The service’s decision to cut the aircraft from the active force was based on the need to free up future cash to cover the cost of a plan to buy two new future vertical lift aircraft for long-range assault and attack reconnaissance missions.
Congress has since opposed the move, injecting $28 million in FY20 funding into the program to purchase long-lead items to manufacture F-model Block II Chinooks for the active Army. The Army’s FY21 budget again provided no funding for the program. A similar plus-up in the congressional FY21 spending bill could continue to push the service back in the direction of buying more Block II variants.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.