The US Army intends to grant Boeing a low-rate initial production contract for the CH-47F Block II Chinook cargo helicopter, despite rumours that the upgrade programme might be cancelled in order to shift funds to the service’s modernisation priorities.
The US Army plans to contract Boeing to upgrade four CH-47F Block II Chinook helicopters, with the option to buy up to 14 upgrades in total for the aircraft, according to a contract notice posted online on 11 January. The value of the forthcoming contract was not disclosed.
In October, at the Association of the US Army’s annual conference in Washington, DC, Boeing said that following rumours and an unconfirmed report, it had reached out to unnamed officials in the US Army to express its belief that reductions in the number of upgrades ordered by the service could hurt the company’s supplier base and increase the per-unit cost of the transport helicopter.
At the conference, Lt Gen Murray, head of the US Army Futures Command, which is leading the service’s modernisation efforts, declined to comment about the possibility of the programme being reduced.
As part of the US Army’s modernisation effort, some $25 billion within the US defense budget will be redirected to support the service’s development of long-range precision weapons, a next-generation combat vehicle, a future vertical-lift aircraft, a mobile and expeditionary Army network, air and missile defense capabilities and improved soldier lethality.
Boeing says it is still concerned about a possible reduction in the service's purchases of Block II upgrades for the CH-47, though it referred specific budget questions to the US Army.
"The Chinook provides critical, necessary capability to the U.S. Army," says the manufacturer. "Any delay to Block II production would impact soldiers’ abilities to perform key missions and harm both taxpayers and American workers."
Block II upgrades for the CH-47F and CH-47G include single-cell composite fuel tanks with increased capacity, a new drivetrain and a new blade that promises extra lift in high and hot situations. Overall, the aircraft's payload capacity will increase more than 1,814kg (4,000lb), Boeing says.
The full programme calls for the upgrade of 473 CH-47F models and 69 MH-47G models, a variant used by US Special Operations Command. However, the US government has not yet funded the full programme.
Boeing is on contract for three engineering and manufacturing development CH-47F aircraft, which are not considered production examples. All of those helicopters are currently in final assembly ahead of schedule and are anticipated to begin flight testing this year, says the firm. The company is also on contract for four MH-47G Block II aircraft to be delivered in 2020. Last year, the Department of Defense also announced an Undefinitized Contract Action for four additional new-build MH-47G Block II aircraft. However, that contract has not yet been signed.