Exclusive: U.S. Army officials said to back new scout helicopter – Chicago Tribune

U.S. Army officials this week backed a plan to buy new armed scout helicopters instead of extending the life of the Army’s aging fleet of OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters, sources familiar with the Army’s plans told Reuters on Friday.

Army acquisition chief Heidi Shyu and other officials agreed to start the new acquisition program for the smaller military helicopter at a meeting on Thursday, but senior Army and Pentagon officials must still sign off on the new acquisition program, said the sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly.

via Exclusive: U.S. Army officials said to back new scout helicopter – Chicago Tribune.

Here’s a prime example of the awful state of procurement. Replacing the OH-58D shouldn’t be a terrible technical challenge.  While the required increases in capability do call for quite a bit of technology, none of it is really revolutionary. And yet, when the Army tried to build a scout helicopter based on an improved version of the Bell airframe, they failed.

So here we find ourselves looking again. And the leading contender, the AH-6, is an evolved version of the very helicopter the OH-58 was built to replace. Back in the Vietnam war.

7 thoughts on “Exclusive: U.S. Army officials said to back new scout helicopter – Chicago Tribune”

  1. The Cayuse was a more capable chopper than the Jet Ranger. Bill Tuttle told me the story of why the OH-6 was replaced and it was a matter of money and politics. Lady Bird owned Bell stock. Everything else flows from that fact.

    Don’t get me wrong, the Kiowa is an OK Helo, but the OH-6 was really better. The 6 is still being operated by the services as the MH-6 little bird. I’d much rather take a hard look at the much higher speed Sikorsky hybrid that we’ve seen than look at the older airframes. As long as it is highly nimble, to go along with the speed, I’d be seriously tempted to buy it since Sikorsky has developed it on their own. To widen the cabin a bit to allow it to take over the Little Bird mission completely would not be a big deal. If it can keep it’s clean airspeed at 200 knots or better, then it should be workable. By comparison, the AH-1 had a clean max airspeed of about 175 knots, which dropped to about 120-130 knots with everything hung in the wind.

  2. The Lady Bird story is an urban myth that has persisted over the years. The OH-58 was eventually purchased instead of the OH-6 because Hughes Aircraft, the maker of the OH-6 initially low balled the contract hoping to make their money back in spare parts. In a rare instance of the Army not putting up with highway robbery they exercised their option and started buying OH-58’s instead.

    Either aircraft was a quantum leap in performance over the aircraft it replaced, the OH-13 and OH-23.

    The ARH-70 debacle was a joint Army/Bell screw up…but I would place most of the blame on good ol’ Uncle Sugar, who kept moving the goal posts and would never completely freeze the design. Some people apparently can’t understand that when you change requirements it normally requires changing a design which costs money.

    In the current Scout competition, the Boeing entry might have a leg-up because the avionics and communications set up is compatible with what had been fielded with the AH-64D already…something the KW never was. The important thing about that is transfer of information across the battlefield.

    Additionally it is based on the MD-540 airframe, that people are already comfortable with.

    The problem with the Raider (the Sikorsky entry) is while it is fast (well in theory since a flyable version with all the avionics and weapons doesn’t exist) it is an unknown and more of a risk and probably more expensive.

    1. I’ve gotten the Lady Bird story from a number of other sources that were contemporary with the decision. As far as I can tell it isn’t an urban myth and Tuttle is not given to such things either. The question is whether or not that stock was an influence in the purchase decision for the 58.

      I don’t know about the low balling on the Cayuse. I do know, however, that low balling defense bids was quite common starting in the late 50s early 60s and got progressively worse. If what you say is true, that is surprising. The Air Force didn’t crack down on Lockheed, for example, with the C-5 project.

      The Cayuse was certainly the more capable chopper. I saw the Silver Eagles do things with the Cayuse that could not be done with the Kiowa. I got to see them while I was at Flight School the year before they were disbanded.

      There is no doubt about the performance jump from the old Recip helos.

      To my knowledge, Sikorsky hasn’t entered the hybrid into the competition. I don’t think they would have to do a lot to make it a viable entry if it were to be just a scout helo. I’d want it to be capable of more than that along the lines of the Little Bird.

      Yeah, the ARH-70 was the Army’s fault. As I know from my project management experience, changes orders are expensive. Sometimes you have to make them, but when you do expect to pay. In aerospace it can be even worse than in Civil Engineering.

  3. A scout helicopter today isn’t the same as a scout helicopter from the Vietnam era. The digital networking capabilities and other evolving tech items that need to be integrated are what drive the train not necessarily the airframe and aerodynamics. If it was a question of just buying an airframe and bolting on some radios that could have been done a long time ago.

    Of course an OH-6 could do things a 58 couldn’t, they have different rotor systems that allow different things. I do think you underestimate what can be done with a Bell 206. The ’58 is a lot cheaper to maintain and in some ways more reliable than an OH-6. But that isn’t really the question, the question is could the 58 do the job it was bought to do. By all accounts and my personal experience it could, it just wasn’t an OH-6.

    The 58D in service today is much like the commercial Model 407 so it isn’t comparable to the OH-58A or C model at all. It’s a reliable aircraft but the Army hasn’t done right by it.

    Bell Helicopter, didn’t have stock during the Vietnam war as it was bought by Textron Corp. in 1960. According to a biography of Lady Bird she got rich because she owned the only TV station in Central Texas, which turned into quite the gold mine. I have heard the “Lady Bird got rich off of Bell” line ever since I was a kid and can’t find anything that proves that as being so.

    I do know from people who were there that Hughes was charging the Army a lot more than it should have for spare parts in the middle of a war.

    1. Tuttle said the same thing about the cost of spare parts. Regardless of the rest, that alone would have caused me to do what the Army did. The Kiowa was able to do the job as a good scout Helo. Several Pilots I knew that had flown both, however, wanted the OH-6 back.

      From what I understand the Kiowa D is not a good in auto-rotation because the rotor is low inertia. Mike Novosel, Jr. said he didn’t want the Army to buy it, but I have no idea if he was in a position to have any influence. In fairness it must be said that the choice between the two airframes is pretty much 6 of one or half a dozen of the other, as we say in the Confederacy. Both can do the job of a scout helo. I don’t think the matter, however, is just the avionics as the design capability of the AC is also important. Given modern electronics, it is prolly not beyond the realm of possibility to simply bolt on the avionics to be able to update the machine to be able to do the job we need done now. The question that would have to be answered is there room for what you need to carry, and do you have the spare capacity towards the gross weight to carry it.

  4. I am with Crazy Horse 13….the capability developer (Aviation Center of Excellence) and the materiel developer (PEO Aviation) need to keep a lid on the requirements documentation. The changes in the Acquisistion regualtions should help that happen.

    And as DAC in the Acquisition Corps I truly believe with Heidi Shyu in charge a cap will be kept and the good idea fairies will be squashed.

    For God’s sake, don’t let the Armor School try to turn it into something it doesn’t need to be!

  5. Having been a grunt in RVN I know lead (as in bullet), is lead. That said I never saw a 7.62 mini-gun hung on a “58” nor did I ever witness (and I witnessed much), a “58” do anything in the air as the OH-6. Defense acquisition is the achilles heel of much of the budget and thus I decry Hugh’s robbing of the Army in the middle of a conflict if true. I have noticed over the decades that the loss of the US Army as a customer hasn’t hurt the “OH-6” line of helicopter development (500D good, NOTAR on “OH-6” frame not so much). The old “58” in the last 5 or so years finally got good improvements on that airframe with both four blades on the main rotor, and two engines. I’d like to see what that model can do. I’d like to point out also that it was the Confederacy (as long as that word was tossed in I’ll comment), that first used in the Civil War a breech loading artillery piece so the Confederacy wasn’t so “corn pone and home-spun”. Just sayin’

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