WASHINGTON — For the second year in a row, Congress is poised to bolster the CH-47F Chinook Block II program as the Army holds steady on its decision to scale back and only buy the latest variant for special operators.
Both the House and Senate appropriators are injecting cash into the Boeing-manufactured, F-model Chinook program in fiscal 2021 to buy them for the active force after the Army decided in FY20, in order to fund its future fleet of helicopters, that it would only purchase Block II aircraft, designated the “G” model, for Army special operations units.
The Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subpanel wants to increase the Chinook account by $119 million on top of the Army’s request for $160.7 million for F-model aircraft.
Along with the additional funding, the committee “strongly encourages” the Army secretary to “assess the increased cost, expected production issues, as well as industrial base risks of a delay in the Block II modernization,” according to the Defense Subcommittee’s FY21 spending bill released Nov. 10.
The committee also notes that an independent analysis of alternatives determined the Block II program was “the best value” and “would improve payload capability while decreasing sustainment costs.”
A delay in production would “cause uncertainty in the domestic supply chains, and delay or reduce the promised benefits of the modernization,” the committee wrote.
The appropriators also raise the issue that the Army has no plans to develop a future heavy-lift cargo helicopter.
The House Appropriations Committee, in its bill released in July, is more specific, providing funding for five CH-47F helicopters in FY21 — which the committee estimates would cost $198 million — and an additional $29 million in advanced procurement funding to “enable the second lot of five F Block II aircraft in fiscal year 2022.”
The committee’s defense subpanel wrote that it “expects the Secretary of the Army to restore funding for the CH-47F Block II program across the next future years defense program when the fiscal year 2022 budget request is submitted.”
While the House and Senate bills differ in funding amounts, both make clear the congressional intent to ensure the Block II variant is fielded to the active component as well as to special operations units. The final funding level will be worked out in conference committee.
Congressional appropriators and authorizers increased advance procurement funds in FY20 by $28 million for the CH-47F in preparation to supply the aircraft to the active force against the Army’s wishes.
The Army again, in its FY21 budget request, did not provide funding for the F-model variant. The service plans to buy 69 special operations variants. The original plan was to procure 473 F-model helicopters for the active component.
The service is planning to review its entire aviation fleet in FY23, but whether that might include a change of heart regarding the F-model Chinook production remains to be seen.
Army leadership has stressed the need to make difficult decisions on the current fleet in order to fund future helicopters expected to come online in a decade.
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.