Aviation Modernization Program to Field Lakota, Modify Current Helos

By J.D. LeipoldJanuary 18, 2008

Aviation Modernization Program to Field Lakota, Modify Current Helos
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 18, 2008) - The Army's $14.6-billion aviation modernization program includes fielding the Lakota UH-72A, along with a number of modifications to existing helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Army leaders from Program Executive Office Aviation and Training and Doctrine Command offered their latest updates on the Army's fleet of helicopters as well as its unmanned aircraft systems program at the Association of the United States Army's aviation symposium and exposition here last week.

Panel discussions focused on modifications to the UH-60M Black Hawk, UH-72A Lakota, CH-47F Chinook, AH-64D Apache Longbow, UH-58D Kiowa Warrior and the Shadow UAV under a modernization program that began in 2004 and continues through 2011.

<b>UH-72A Lakota</b>

Since the Army took delivery of its first UH-72A Lakota, a light utility helicopter, in November 2006, its builder, EADS North America, has churned a total of 18 operationally-ready units either on-time or ahead-of-schedule. EADS NA will ramp up production rates from two to three per month by March.

Fielding of the initial helos happened in record time with the first unit built in less than 11 months following the award of the EADS NA contract. Plans are to acquire 345 by 2017. The majority will go to the National Guard; the remaining will go to Training and Doctrine Command National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.

The Lakota is a commercial aircraft designed to conduct general support tasks in non-combat environments such as civil search and rescue, evacuation, counter-drug and limited civil command and control operations through Homeland Security.

"We've had great success in bringing the Lakota capability to the Army, the National Guard and the Reserve component," said Col. Thurgood. "It's a commercial platform, the only piece of military equipment is the communication addition that gives us the ability to speak with our military counterparts in secure mode and to speak with homeland defense agencies, the police, fire and civil authorities."

The colonel said the Army has approved several modifications - medevac, supply and service battalion configuration and for VIP. The Lakota is also being configured for use as an observer/controller unit and in an opposing forces configuration.

<b>UH-60M Black Hawk</b>

The Sikorsky-built "M" model is the latest of the 20-plus-year-old Black Hawk line of medium-lift helicopters capable of assault, medevac, command and control, aerial sustainment and search and rescue. Delivery of the first of 30 was made to the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Campbell, Ky., beginning last month.

While the M class has tremendous capabilities over the L class, the Army has even more technical enhancements in development. An upgrade program will include fly-by-wire flights controls, the Common Avionics Architecture System and full-authority digital engine control.

"Fly-by-wire is going to give us level-one handling qualities which means our aviators are going to put their input into the pedal and the cyclic and collective are going to take care of themselves," said Col. Theresa Barton, capabilities manager-lift at TRADOC. "This will reduce the pilots' workload so they can concentrate on the task and mission which means situational awareness will be much higher."

Barton said fly-by-wire technology allows for removal of mechanical flight controls which reduce aircraft weight, simultaneously increasing reliability and survivability particularly in brown-out conditions.

"It's very difficult to describe the precision hover capability you have with a flight-by-wire system of level one handling and qualities," added Col. Neil Thurgood, project manager, utility helicopter at PEO Aviation. "With this platform a young captain or major can control the fight and have situational awareness with less concentration on keeping control of the aircraft especially in sand and dust situations."

The Army owns 1,668 Black Hawks and expects the addition of the "M" class to the fleet will bring the total number of Black Hawks to 1,931, which will be a combination of L and M classes. Thurgood said approximately 300 UH-60s are in the fight on terror on a daily basis.

<b>CH-47F Chinook</b>

Since 1961, the Chinook has been the heavy-lift workhorse of the Army and will continue in that capacity until around 2030, officials said, with significant upgrades through the recapitalization of Comanche program money which will make the aircraft more reliable, less costly to operate and open up joint digital connectivity requirements to the future combat force.

"Today, there are two types of F models, the new and the renew," said Col. Newman Shufflebarger, project manager, cargo helicopters PEO Aviation. "We're going to build about 113 new and about 339 will be renewed. Transmissions, rotor blades and hubs will be harvested, but everything else will be new such as the new machined airframe, digital map display and the CAAS (common avionics architecture system) advanced digital cockpit which gives us near level one flight-handling characteristics like fly-by-wire."

Col. Barton added: "When you look at the difference between a D and F model, the first thing to start with is the monolithic airframe that will reduce corrosion and vibration and that means we'll reduce the maintenance man hours on this aircraft significantly."

The Army presently manages 452 D and F model Chinooks of which 407 are in Iraq and Afghanistan.

<b>AH-64D Apache Longbow</b>

With more than 800 in service, the Army's premiere attack helicopter, the AH-64D Apache Longbow tank-killer will be going through what is referred to as block III improvements in 2008 which includes increasing digitization, incorporation of the joint tactical radio system, enhanced engines and drive systems, a new composite rotor blade and will have the capability to control unmanned aerial vehicles.

Builder Lockheed Martin has developed a new targeting and night-vision system for the bird which uses second-generation long-wave infrared sensors with improved range and resolution. Called Arrowhead, the system has a targeting FLIR (forward looking infrared) with three fields of view, a dual field-of-view pilotage FLIR, a CCD television camera, electronic zoom, target tracker and auto boresight. Arrowhead will be outfitted on 704 Apaches by 2011.

"It's more than just a helicopter," said Col. Mark Hayes, Apache capabilities reconnaissance/attack at TRADOC. "This block III Apache's open-system architecture will enable its own lethal capability by firing every suite of weapons we ask it to fire today to include the future weapons that are in development such as the joint air-ground missile."

The block III Apache will also enable the ground maneuver commander to understand the field and to decide and execute. It also will have littoral capabilities for Soldiers and Marines to use in ground operations as well as maritime mode to understand and see beyond the limits of a ground force fight.

While the block III Apache hasn't been field tested according to Col. Derek Paquette, project manager, Apache attack helicopter program, PEO Aviation, the model in simulation is 2.5 times more lethal and 10 times more survivable than previous models.

<b>OH-58D Kiowa Warrior (Armed Scout Helicopter)</b>

"The Kiowa Warrior faces some obsolescence issues and it has some force protection and cost challenges ahead, but the Army made the decision to fund safety enhancements, address obsolescence and keep this aircraft in the fight to 2018 or beyond because the warfighter demands it," said Col. Hayes.

Upgrades to the Kiowa built by Bell Helicopter will include the cockpit display system, incorporation of weight reduction initiatives to allow the warfighter more time on-station, addition of a full-authority digital engine control, cockpit airbags and enhanced survivability seats. Thus far, 199 Kiowas have been modified under the safety enhancement program.

Kiowa will eventually be replaced by the ARH-70A Arapaho which is still being developed. Eventually, there will be 512 ARH-70As in the active Army and in four National Guard battalions currently equipped with the AH-64A.