The US Army has ordered the first major review of its aviation branch since a landmark study in 2003, with greater numbers of Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks and Boeing CH-47 Chinooks to be considered.

The first army aviation transformation study led to the cancellation of the Sikorsky/Boeing RAH-66 Comanche in 2004, with the proceeds having been used to launch a sweeping modernisation campaign.

Lt Gen James Thurman, the army's deputy chief of staff, says the success and failure of programmes launched over the past five years will form the baseline for the new study.

UH60A 0002H
 © Sikorsky

"Those areas that have been successful will be honed and retained," Thurman said during the annual convention of the Army Aviation Association of America. "Areas that have not been fully executed will be revisited to see if they can be executed and developed, and, if required, cancelled."

But the new study group, led by army aviation branch chief Maj Gen James Barclay, is not likely to produce the sweeping programmatic changes launched in 2004, say army aviation officials.

"Aviation Study-1 was pretty intensive," says Col Brian Diaz, the army's capabilities manager for lift programmes. "We see Aviation Study-2 being a follow-on azimuth check with force structure, equipment and personnel. You know: are we going in the right direction?"

One change under review will consider increasing the number of helicopters assigned to company-level units. Specifically, Thurman says medical evacuation units could increase from 12 aircraft to 15, and CH-47 Chinook units from 12 to 14. The army operates the UH-60 as a medical evaluation helicopter, among other roles.

The army has almost 40 active and reserve duty Chinook units, so increasing each could substantially boost Boeing's orderbook.

Mark Ballew, a Boeing senior manager and army veteran, says some army units must split aircraft between two or three bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, with this sometimes creating equipment shortages as they are stretched thin.

Ch-47F Chinook
 © Boeing

Thurman says the second aviation study is also tasked with recommending new initiatives or requirements. The army's current needs are well-known. A replacement for the Bell OH-58 Kiowa Warrior has been delayed by at least 18 months while an analysis of alternatives process will be carried out.

Meanwhile, army aviation is also considering plans to launch an all-new helicopter programme in fiscal year 2012, although no funding has so far been set aside. Candidates for the new programme include a Joint Heavy Lift aircraft and a Joint Multi-Role asset to replace its Black Hawk and Boeing AH-64 Apache fleets after the next decade.


Source: Flight International