The remanufacturing of military helicopters is not a new business. For the US aerospace industry it is set to become a proportionally more important source of rotary-wing revenue over the next 10 years.

There are around 6,500 helicopters in the US military inventory, significantly down from the Vietnam War era of the late 1960s. This still accounts for the largest single slice of rotorcraft business in the Western world, but is continuing to slip and attention is beginning to shift from the USA to Europe.

Sikorsky estimates that the US military will account for 23% of a projected $73.7 billion helicopter market between 1999 and 2008, compared to 34% the decade before. This is largely because almost half of the US military inventory comprises relatively modern machines delivered since 1980. This includes more than 1,600 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks and over 800 Boeing AH-64 Apaches.

The Stratford, Connecticut-based company's long-term strategy revolves firmly around the Sikorksy Boeing RAH-66 Comanche, but the future armed scout machine is not expected to achieve an initial operating capability before 2006. Sikorsky's more immediate focus is on remanufacturing and modifying its existing product line, business which it estimates will be worth some $6 billion by 2008.

Product development manager, Jay Verney, says: "Sikorsky will be able to take advantage of the market opportunities that comes from change. As the military downsizes, there is actually business out there."

The US Navy plans to remanufacture up to 289 SH-60 Seahawks, while the US Army is considering a potentially even larger rebuild of its UH-60s. The US Marine Corps, in addition, will eventually need to address extending the life of the CH-53E Super Stallion.

Boeing is a past master at this. By 1995 it had rebuilt 480 US Army CH-47A/B/C Chinooks to -47Ds and, in the process, sustained its Philadelphia plant during the lean 1980s. With the future Joint Transport Rotorcraft replacement for the tandem rotor CH-47 unlikely to be fielded before 2020, the Chinook is about to pass through Boeing's factory a third time.

Second to Comanche

The Improved Cargo Helicopter (ICH) programme calls for modernising and remanufacturing 300 CH-47s to the new -47F configuration from 2003, more than 40 years after the first transport rolled off the then Vertol production line. The ICH is worth $3 billion to Boeing and until the RAH-66 ramps up, will rank second only in importance to the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor.

Further advanced is Boeing's remanufacture of an initial 232 AH-64D Longbow Apache anti-tank helicopters for the US Army under a $1.9 billion contract signed in 1996. The company's Mesa plant in Arizona had redelivered 66 modified helicopters by the end of March, along with the first eight of 97 new-build machines to the UK and Netherlands.

The 100-day remanufacture process includes fitting new side avionics bays, cockpit , navigation and communication systems and wiring for the Longbow radar. The modifications are so extensive that Boeing counts each rebuilt AH-64D as a new machine. Remanufacturing outnumbers new production by 2:1 and is set to increase with a follow-on US Army contract to be awarded next year, calling for 298 attack machines to be modified.

Remanufacturing similarly commands a larger share of Bell's military helicopter output with the USMC's H-1 upgrade programme, which will give its venerable UH-1 and AH-1 products a new lease on life. "Military work now accounts for slightly more than half our business base, up from about 40%," says Pat Rever, naval and air force requirements manager.

The $2 billion programme entails the remanufacture of 100 UH-1Ns and 180 AH-1Ws to four-bladed UH-1Ys and AH-1Zs respectively between 2003 and 2013. Flight testing of the new dynamic components, Litton integrated avionics system and Lockheed Martin targeting system, will start in October.


Rejuvenating older products has also helped put Kaman Aerospace's military helicopter business back on the international map. The delivery of 10 rebuilt and modernised SH-2Gs (above) to Egypt and the sale of 11 even more advanced versions of the 40-year-old design to Australia represented 36% of Kaman's sales last year. This does not include the more recent sale of four SH-2G(NZ)s to the Royal New Zealand Navy. This and the Australian SH-2G(A) programme will keep the Bloomfield, Connecticut, manufacturer busy until 2002.

Source: Flight International