The US Army is again studying a series of industry suggestions for sustaining its remaining fleet of Bell UH-1 Huey utility helicopters.

The service is doing so against the backdrop of a fundamental shift in military planning and uncertain future funding.

According to the US Army's Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM), a light utility helicopter (LUH) request for information (RFI) had drawn 19 responses by the deadline at the end of September. In the meantime, a second RFI, issued in August for a much larger upgrade of itsUH-1Hs, closed on 15 October.

The LUH requirement is for up to 160 new or upgraded helicopters to equip four Army National Guard battalions in North and South Dakota and a training unit each with 32 machines. "We're seeking ideas; it could be anything. We didn't set any specifications other than to cut operational and support costs. These are now being reviewed and we expect to finish by the end of November," says AMCOM.

Bell's submission is based around the improved UH-1Huey-II, rebuilt with a Bell 212 drive train uprated to 960kW (1,290shp), new main and tail rotors, tail boom and stabiliser. It is offering a choice of retaining the AlliedSignal T53 turboshift and uprating to the -703 or re-engining with used General Electric T700-701Cs now fitted to the Sikorsky UH-60L but planned for replacement.

AMCOM's follow-on RFI focuses on possible options for extending the operational life of around 700 UH-1Hs. This represents the residual fleet of machines still in Army National Guard and Reserve service. "They've asked industry to define the improvements to the Huey to sustain it for the next 25 years," says one source.

Whether either study will result in a formal request for proposals next year is unclear, particularly in the wake of army chief of staff Gen Eric Shinseki unveiling his radical new vision for the future. He is calling for the army to be rebuilt around lighter, more agile divisions equipped with wheeled, rather than tracked, armour.

It is unclear what, if any, changes will be required of army aviation and the effect on those major developments under way such as the Boeing Sikorsky RAH-66 combat scout helicopter .

Source: Flight International