American airframer Boeing has secured $22.5 million in funding from the US Army to support long-lead advanced work for production of Block II CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopters.
Boeing was awarded the fixed-price contract for CH-47F long-lead items, under Lot 4 production, on 6 July, though the Department of Defense (DoD) announcement did not specify the Chinook variant nor customer.
The US Army, however, confirms to FlightGlobal that the 6 July contract will cover advanced purchases for Block II Chinooks destined for the USA.
Spain, South Korea, Germany and Egypt are also all expecting CH-47F deliveries in the coming years.
Exactly how many aircraft Washington will receive under Block 4 remains vague. The army’s aviation procurement office tells FlightGlobal the figure will be unknown until the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act is written and approved by lawmakers in Congress.
Boeing declines to answer questions related to Block 4 CH-47F production, referring inquiries to the army. The company says it is still in discussions with the service regarding Lot 3 production.
Currently, Germany is the only customer with an official commitment to acquire large numbers of the latest Block II variant of the long-serving heavy-lift helicopter. Lawmakers in Berlin recently approved funding for 60 of the newest twin-rotor CH-47Fs, at a cost of $8.5 billion.
While the army has procured a limited number Block II CH-47Fs, and the MH-47G special operations variant of the Chinook, the service has yet to commit to a large-scale acquisition.
Speaking at the Army Aviation Association of America conference in April, the service’s top aviators said they hope to reach a decision about the future of the army’s heavy-lift rotary fleet by year-end.
“The army is going to make a decision on the future of the cargo fleet this calendar year,” said Major General Robert Barrie, who oversees the army aviation procurement office.
The US Army is currently focused on upgrading its utility-lift and reconnaissance aviation assets, through the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft and Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft development programmes. This has left the future of its heavy-lift fleet uncertain.
The role is currently filled by the Block I CH-47F – the same model being procured by South Korea, Spain and Egypt.
Boeing is pushing the service to adopt the Block II Chinook. At the start of 2023, the army had 513 CH-47s – mostly Block I variants, but also a limited number of MH-47Gs.
The army has contracted with Boeing to deliver a small number of Block II CH-47Fs, but not by the service’s choosing. Congress inserted funding for 10 Block II aircraft into past defence budgets, although the Pentagon did not request them.
In 2021, the army awarded Boeing a $136 million contract to supply the first four Block II CH-47s under Lot 1. A further $63 million deal for Lot 2 added two aircraft.
Delivery of the Lot 1 aircraft is expected in 2024, according to Barrie. He confirmed in April that six Block II CH-47Fs are under contract, with funding available for four more.
Boeing is targeting annual production of 36 CH-47Fs on its Philadelphia line, including Block I, Block II and special-operations variants. The company is relying on overseas orders to sustain production until the hoped-for US Army procurement decision comes through.