US Army reveals digital Black Hawk goal

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The US Army plans to add new digital avionics to its fleet of older Sikorsky UH-60L Black Hawks as well as refurbishing those airframes, a senior service official says.

As the older machines are refurbished to give them added service life, the army will use some of the down-time to install parts of its "L-digitisation" avionics modernisation package to those aircraft, says Col Thomas Todd, the service's project manager for utility helicopters.

"We'd be able to take advantage of the time down for those aircraft and not only get them 10 more years of useful life but also give the unit capability they didn't have before," he says.

The army has a budget for the L-digitisation programme in fiscal year 2013 to start a competition for that work. It will also make a downselect decision during the fiscal year, Todd says, with the process of selecting and integrating the package to take three years. Production is expected to start in FY2016 to upgrade 760 UH-60Ls that are in service with the army, he adds.

The army is working on trade studies "to see what industry has to offer," Todd says. One of the primary objectives of the programme will be to make the L model upgrade resemble the new UH-60M aircraft as closely as possible during operational use.

The army plans to replace the L-model fleet with its nascent future vertical lift (FVL) programme as soon as possible.

"We will not make the L-digital a new Mike-model," Todd says. "It will not have a 20-year life."

Meanwhile, the army has finished developing an upgrade for its latest UH-60Ms that includes a fly-by-wire control system. But while the service will field some of that new technology to the operational fleet, it will not field the fly-by-wire system, Todd says. Instead, it will continue to mature that technology for the FVL programme.

The army has entered into another multi-year contract for the UH-60M, with a production rate of 60 aircraft per year. That contract should continue for another five years.

The service also has about 800 older A-model Black Hawks in its inventory, and as it begins to shrink, those aircraft could potentially be upgraded with the L-digital package and sold to other countries, Todd says.

Eventually, the army will only fly upgraded versions of the UH-60L and M-model helicopters as part of its Black Hawk fleet.