The US Army plans to modernise its heavy-lift rotorcraft fleet with the latest version of the Boeing CH-47F Chinook helicopter.

As part of a sweeping change to its aviation strategy announced on 8 February, the army plans to cancel a next-generation scout helicopter programme and instead acquire the latest Block II variant of the CH-47F, along with additional Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawks.

Under this new direction, the army says it will formally enter into an agreement with Boeing “with a path to full-rate production in the future” for the Block II Chinook.

“The army is deeply committed to our aviation portfolio and to our partners in the aviation industrial base,” says secretary of the army Christine Wormuth, the service’s civilian administrator.

Chinook Block II-c-Boeing

Source: Boeing

The Block II Chinook boasts multiple improvements over the legacy CH-47F, according to Boeing, including greater range and heavier payload

“These steps enable us to work with industry to deliver critical capabilities as part of the joint force, place the army on a sustainable strategic path and continue the army’s broader modernisation plan,” she adds.

Wormuth describes the moves as the army’s most significant modernisation effort in four decades.

The decision ends years of uncertainty at Boeing surrounding the future of the CH-47 Block II production line in Philadelphia.

The company has been able to maintain the minimum production level necessary to sustain the assembly line – relying on low-rate orders of the MH-47G variant from US Special Operations Command and a small number of Block II CH-47F orders for the army that were mandated by Congress.

While Boeing has secured numerous Chinook order commitments from overseas customers, those have mostly been for the older Block I variant. Only Germany has opted for the latest Block II model – with Berlin approving an $8.5 billion deal for 60 aircraft in 2023.

MH-47G Chinook Block II 160th SOAR

Source: 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment

Limited orders of the MH-47G special operations variant of the Chinook from US Special Operations Command have helped maintain the Block II production line while Boeing awaited a decision from the army

While the US Army already operated some 510 CH-47s at the start of 2024, most of those are older Block I variants, along with the limited number of special operations MH-47Gs.

The service’s decision to adopt the latest model Chinook, along with eliminating the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) programme, secures Boeing’s role as a vertical lift provider to the US military for decades to come.

“We are ready to provide the army with additional affordable and ready-now heavy-lift aircraft to meet today’s multi-domain challenges,” Boeing says.

Posting on LinkedIn on 14 February, chief executive of Boeing’s defence business Ted Colbert shared details of what improvements Block II operators can expect over earlier CH-47 models.

“The CH-47F Block II configuration provides enhanced capabilities including a reinforced airframe, an improved drive train and redesigned fuel tanks,” Colbert says. “All of which enable the Chinook to lift more, fly farther and be positioned to support affordable future upgrades.”

CH-47F Block II Chinook

Source: Boeing

Boeing produces all its Chinook variants at a plant in Philadelphia, including the CH-47F Block I, MH-47G and CH-47F Block II

The decision to end the FARA programme without procuring one of the next-generation armed scouts designed by Sikorsky and Bell also bodes well for Boeing’s other signature rotorcraft – the AH-64E Apache attack helicopter.

Boeing’s FARA design was eliminated from the competition in 2020, along with proposals from Karem and AVX.

The company was also partnered with Sikorsky on the Defiant X, which lost to Bell’s V-280 Valor in the army’s Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft competition.

The premature dissolution of the FARA effort means the army will likely continue to heavily rely on the AH-64 as a multi-role armed platform for decades into the future. The scout role FARA was meant to fill is currently handled by Apaches teamed with uncrewed aerial vehicles.

Army chief of staff General Randy George says the service plans to use a combination of uncrewed aircraft and space-based systems for reconnaissance support going forward.