Big Changes Ahead for Army Aviation?

The Army had industry partners propose an Armed Aerial Scout based on existing, in production helicopters recently to look for a replacement for its OH-58D Kiowa Warrior fleet. The results were not particularly impressive.

And so now, it seems Army Aviation may just get out of the armed scout business.

US Army leaders are considering scrapping its entire fleet of Bell Helicopter OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters, while pulling the National Guard’s Boeing AH-64 Apaches into the active-duty force to fill the scout helicopter role as the Army seeks to fulfill its longer-term requirement of a newly developed armed aerial scout, according to several Army and defense industry sources.

The plan also calls for giving active Black Hawk helicopters to the Guard, while taking half of the Guard’s Lakota fleet, using them as active-duty trainers and scrapping its Jet Rangers.

While a final decision has yet to be made, the industry sources had the impression that the deal was all but done.

This is a fairly huge realignment of the aviation master plan. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago the OH-58D was thought good enough that the 82nd Airborne’s organic attack helicopter battalion was composed solely of Kiowas.

And as the article notes, the National Guard isn’t going to be eager to give up its Apaches to the regular Army (and all those Guard units flying Apaches each have two Senators and at least one Representative who can be counted on to ask Big Army to justify itself in excruciating detail).

Further, if all attack helicopter capability is vested in the regular Army, where will the attack helicopter support for activated National Guard divisions come from?

The article also mentions retiring the TH-67 trainer (basically a Bell Jet Ranger 206) with UH-72A Lakotas again stolen from the Guard and Reserves. Frankly, I’m not sure how much money that would save. Ordinarily, necking down the total number of types of aircraft flown is a money saving measure. But the UH-72, while cheap to fly for its mission, is still going to have much higher operating costs than the TH-67.

5 thoughts on “Big Changes Ahead for Army Aviation?”

  1. When I was at Ft Rucker in 1994, doing the Rotary-Wing Transition Course, my IP (an old crusty Warrant from the Vietnam Era named Sandy Angstrom) looked over at the TH-67s that were beginning to take up space on the ramp while we were practicing hovering in a UH-1H and said “Yeah, these Hueys may be old, but they’re a helluva lot better than those fucking toys over there.” Looks like ol’ Sandy was right….

    1. I wonder what he said about the old TH-55s that were there when I started the old course in ’76. They used to call those Mattel Messerschmidts at Wolters.

      The Jet Ranger makes sense as a trainer. The Navy has used them for many years, longer than the Army has. I can’t see why the Army has it in its head to use the LU-72 as a trainer. It may be simple enough, but the fuel costs are much higher. I imagine overall maintenance of the 72 is higher as well.

      Using Apaches as armed Scouts doesn’t make sense to me either. The OH-58 is simple and it’s relatively cheap to operate. If IIRC, the crew of a Kiowa D is one pilot and an Aero Scout (enlisted) so crew cost is lower as well, if I’m remembering right. Just don’t see what is going through their skulls.

  2. QM, I’d say “sunk costs.” Those craft are already paid for.

    It sounds like they’re going to cannibalize the Guard to “save” money.

    Next thing you know, they’ll be taking F-15s and F-16s from the Guard to keep the AF stocked up. Good thing we have a lot of F-4s and F-100s in the boneyard, right?

  3. A KW’s crew is 2 pilots, they haven’t flown with an observer in almost 20 years. The issue is the KW needs upgrades to keep it capable of operating on the modern battlefield, so do you sink money into an aging underpowered airframe, do you buy a new aircraft with the associated development costs, or do you use another aircraft that isn’t exactly what you want but can sort of do the job? Oh and by the way the Army doesn’t have any money. So someone obviously thinks they can save money on parts by eliminating aircraft types and using the savings of commonality to offset the higher operating costs of flying UH-72s and AH-64s vice the soon to be retired Bell products. It’s all about money and someone has convinced the decision makers this decision will save it.

  4. A fighteraircraft is a forces aircraft designed primarily designed for air-to-air combat opposed to other aircraft,[1] having the status of conflicting to bombers and attack aircraft, whose key mission is to attack ground targets. The hallmarks of a fighter are its hurry, maneuverability, and insignificant size next of kin to other combat aircraft.

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