The US Army hasn’t yet said it will retire its aging fleet of Bell OH-58 Kiowa Warrior reconnaissance helicopters.
But if the Army makes that decision — reports suggested it will — the fleet should be grounded promptly to save scare financial resources in the current budget-constrained environment, says a top army procurement official.
“I think you save money the faster you retire the system,” outgoing program executive officer for army aviation Gen. William Crosby says on 14 January.
“You have to maintain a huge infrastructure to support [any programme],” adds Crosby, noting also that helicopter reconnaissance will remain critical to the army. “Faster is better, if and when a decision is made.”
Crosby, who is set to retire from the army on 24 January, spoke to reporters during the Association of the United States Army’s Army Aviation Symposium near Washington, DC.
His comments come amid reports that army officials are considering grounding Kiowas and using Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to fulfill the reconnaissance mission.
Reports also suggest the armed aerial scout (AAS) programme, which was to development Kiowa’s replacement, is on the chopping block.
When asked about the future of AAS, Crosby says, “I don’t know that we will revisit armed aerial scout.”
He says unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could eventually replaced manned scouts, but insists the transition remains many years away.
UAVs, says Crosby, still lack the “situational curiosity” and critical decision-making ability of human pilots.
In the meantime, Crosby suggests that pressing Apaches into the scout role could be effective.
He calls attention to an Army analysis that found the Apache was well-suited for the job, and adds that recent and future Apache improvement might address concerns about the aircraft’s dispatch reliability and higher operating costs.
For instance, Crosby calls the Block III Apache AH-64E, which achieved initial operational capability with the army late last year, “a huge improvement” over previous models.
That aircraft has composite rotor blades with an improved airfoil and an upgraded engine and transmission.
Those changes are intended to restore speed and lift performance, which degraded in the last two decades as the Army added weight to the original airframe.
The army is also working to develop a more-efficient engines for its Apache’s and Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks through its Improved Turbine Engine Programme, Crosby notes.