WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army continued its yearslong tradition of not funding the procurement of the latest variant of the CH-47F Chinook cargo helicopter in favor of future programs in its fiscal 2022 budget request, but House appropriators are pushing back.
Some lawmakers are again calling for enough funding to buy the aircraft for the active force. The House Appropriations Committee’s FY22 defense spending bill includes a $170 million plus-up for a second set of five CH-47F Block II aircraft and additional funding for a third set of five “to ensure that the Army stays on schedule with the program,” according to a summary of the bill released June 29.
Congress funded the first lot of five CH-47F Block IIs in its FY21 budget, going against the Army’s wishes laid out in FY20 and FY21 budget requests, which included funding for only the Army special operations variant — the MH-47G.
The service said it would not procure Block IIs for the active component because it needed to allocate funding toward its ambitious plans to procure two future vertical lift aircraft by 2030.
Congressional appropriators and authorizers increased procurement funds in FY20 by $28 million, priming the pump to get advanced parts to build the first lot of CH-47F Block IIs.
While the Army did not include CH-47F Block II aircraft in its FY22 budget request, providing funding only for six MH-47Gs for special operators, it did ask for five of the aircraft in its unfunded requirements list sent to Congress last month. The inclusion in the wish list serves as the first sign the Army may be warming up to the idea of restoring future production of the helicopter to the active component.
The new version of the helicopter features new rotor blades, a fuel system, an electrical system and a stronger airframe that brings the Chinook up to a maximum gross weight of 54,000 pounds.
The Army has yet to schedule a limited-user test for the CH-47F Block II and has instead ordered its return to flight testing to gather more data after issues cropped up in previous testing in 2020, such as excessive vibration from the new Advanced Chinook Rotor Blades.
Boeing said it is confident it will win a first production contract in FY21. The first unit would receive the aircraft in 2025.
The F-model Block II variant, as of earlier this spring, had flown a total of 450 flight test hours, and its rotor blades handled an additional 2,500 pounds of lift.
The Army conducted an analysis of alternatives for the program in 2017 that found it would save more than $3 billion in the long term compared to recapitalizing the entire CH-47F fleet, which would be necessary without a Block II program.
House appropriators are also adding $211.5 million above the Army’s request for 33 more UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters.
After building 42 UH-60 Mike-models in FY21, the service will build half that in FY22 with plans to roll just 24 off the production line. The Army indicated this drop-off in its FY21 through FY25 five-year plan. Buying more aircraft will help the service get a better price per aircraft. The Army is preparing to enter into its last multiyear production contract for the helicopter in FY22.
Meanwhile, House appropriators are providing 30 remanufactured AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, in line with the Army’s request for $494 million. According to the FY21 through FY25 five-year plan, the Army had planned to buy 31 of the helos but ultimately requested one less in FY22.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.