US Army imagines life after Apache, Black Hawk, Chinook and Kiowa

In reality the future doesn’t look pretty for army aviation. Boeing’s production line in Philadelphia for the CH-47 Chinook closes in 2017. The Sikorsky line in Connecticut for the UH-60 Black Hawk shuts down after 2022. And Boeing’s line in Arizona for the AH-64 Apache kills the lights after 2025.

The army has two choices: continue buying new versions of the same aircraft in perpetuity, or start funding a massive development program for a replacement. Either way, the army needs to make a decision very soon. No decision means the army will be stuck with buying new versions of the same helicopters. This was the issue that army aviation officials publicly confronted last week in a rather glum symposium you can read about here.

But let’s not dwell on all of that. Take a look at what could be the future below.



The army’s aviation applied technology directorate (AATD) has published this vision for a future rotorcraft fleet, should the army decide to invest billions in a wholesale replacement. The so-called joint multi-role fleet would be based on common avionics and propulsion architectures, but supported by airframes tailored for each of the scout, utility, attack and cargo missions. The Sikorsky X2 appears to be the stand-in for the Apache/Black Hawk replacement. The tiltrotor at right appears based on the Karem/Lockheed TR75 or the Boeing JCALS concepts. I’m not sure I’ve seen the rigid-rotor UAV design on the left before, but it seems to have more than a little A160 Hummingbird in it.

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11 Responses to US Army imagines life after Apache, Black Hawk, Chinook and Kiowa

  1. AirShowFan 18 January, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    Neat.

    My first thought, though, is that the rigid-rotor UAV design seems to have more than a little X-50 in it.

  2. RobH 18 January, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    The rotor system on the UAV looks alot like a slowed-rotor compound helo that NASA Dryden tested in the 80′s. I think they called it ‘X-Wing’.

  3. Jeb Hoge 18 January, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    Is the tiltrotor concept dead in the water for developing concepts? I’ve always assumed that it would adapt really well to a gunship model. The old “Future Fighters and Combat Aircraft” book even had an artist’s conception of what a Cobra fuselage mated to a tiltrotor assembly would look like.

  4. Royce 18 January, 2011 at 7:01 pm #

    Even if the existing helicopters are old designs, they are evolving with new technology under the skin that makes them more reliable, easier to maintain, and improves situational awareness and survivability.

    The army, and the Pentagon in general, has a miserable record in the recent past dealing with ‘wholesale’ replacement programs that cover a range of requirements. They end up more expensive than expected and loaded with technical obstacles that cause delays and often cancellation in the end. Nobody is served well by that.

  5. glen towler 18 January, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

    I do belive the Chinook will be very diffcult to replace being so good at what it does

  6. Terence R 19 January, 2011 at 2:07 am #

    Why this obsession with more bells and whistles? The Marine Corps is pleased with their evolutionary models of the ubiquitous Huey, the Yankee and Zulu. If the Chinook will be hard to replace, then why replace it? There is a reason that the AF still flies the BUFF and the Russians still fly the Bears. It is much more cost effective to keep evolving a proven platform. I see the logic in the X-2 concept for some future missions but for the most part, the Apache, Blackhawk and Chinook are great birds that have a lot of room left for upgrades as the mission dictates.
    TR

  7. para 19 January, 2011 at 6:27 am #

    The US Army has to swallow their pride, for whatever thats worth, and could buy CH-53K, unless someone can provide a real reason, why that one would not meet requirements.

    That way the heavy role would be filled. An alternative can also be a modern CH-47, along the lines of the CH-53-effort. You dont have to turn to a “future super”-effort.

    As far as the other roles and a comprehensive approach is concerned, the outlook is bleak. Lets face it, any really new project, esp. with the notorious “joint” or “multi-role” and “common x/y”-attributes has failed miserably, be it Army, Navy or Air Force.

    At this point, what sets American ideas apart from the Russians, is that they can still come up with pretty pictures (of course a European phenomenon as well).

  8. dude 19 January, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    Perhaps a better question is: does the US Army need & can it afford a whole array of rotorcraft?

    LIGHT: RAH66 Commanche was cancelled over the rise of the UCAV. Subsequent OH58 replacement (ARH, AVX, AAX) faired no better.

    MEDIUM: UH60 Hawks family has yet to show its design limit. Is there a justification to find a replacement in this economy?

    HEAVY: AW101, NH90, S92, CH53K & CH47G show marked capability improvement over baseline models.

    UTRA: Try to capitalize existing technology and investigate a derivative of the costly V22 first, PLEASE.

  9. XBradTC 19 January, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    Would someone please punch the Army in the dick for looking at “revolutionary” designs rather than evolutionary designs?

    I’m not saying that they need to keep building new models of old airframes. There will come a time when that reaches the point of diminishing returns.

    But 20 years from now when the fleet needs to be replaced, the Army should build aircraft that are the then-current state of the art, not begin a massive program to redefine what helicopters are and can do. The US procurement system is so broke that they’d spend 25 years in development, then fall into the classic procurement death spiral, and they’d end up with fantastic cost overruns, and no new choppers on the ramp.

  10. Rocketist 20 January, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

    If they can’t even spell “Ultra” (see pic), how are they supposed to lay down a procurement specificaton for a helicopter?

    Seriously, all the legacy choppers the army currently uses stem essentially from the Vietnam war, and there’s many who never learned when that was. It’s to be expected that investing in a modern replacement now could yield big returns in mission capability, or lower operating cost – whichever way they tailor their requirements. It will also provide a nice technology increment for the industry – and finally prove that newer can be better, even for Chinooks!

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