The US Army plans to accelerate production of the Boeing Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche and transfer part of its Boeing AH-64 Apache fleet to the reserves in an effort to offset the retirement of more than 1,000 older helicopters over the next three years.

This plan fine-tunes a number of previously announced army aviation modernisation initiatives and is designed to support the US Army's wider transformation effort. The new roadmap re-affirms the army's intent to retire all of its "legacy fleet" of Bell AH-1 Cobras and UH-1 utility helicopters by 2004.

Overall numbers of helicopters will shrink by 1,000, including more than 600 machines now operated by the National Guard and US Army Reserve. The plan is intended to cut operating and support costs in order to fund the accelerated purchase of Comanche-armed scout helicopters from 2006. Under current plans, Comanche procurement is capped at 62 helicopters a year starting in 2006, but no new production projections have been revealed. The army had previously said it was looking at accelerating production to as many as 96 helicopters a year, which would complete the planned production of 1,213 RAH-66s three years early and save $3 billion.

The National Guard and Reserve will be re-equipped with 240 helicopters the US Army plans to transfer from the active fleet, including 67AH-64As, leaving the frontline force with 675 Apaches. Helicopters will be freed up by cutting the number of Apaches in the heavy division aviation units from 24 to 18 and at company level from 24 to 21.

The plan reduces the number of helicopter types in the US Army inventory to four - the Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, Boeing CH-47D/F Chinook, AH-64A/D and Sikorsky UH-60L/M Black Hawk.

Source: Flight International