Magazine article National Defense

Marines Allocate Nearly $7B for Helicopter Upgrades

Magazine article National Defense

Marines Allocate Nearly $7B for Helicopter Upgrades

Article excerpt

One of the three Abrams tanks the Marine Corps lost in Iraq was destroyed by friendly tire, specifically by a Hellfire anti-tank missile launched from a Cobra attack helicopter.

Avoiding such incidents of "blue on blue" tire is one reason why the Marine Corps wants to renovate its entire fleet of 200 Cobras and equip them with powerful targeting sensors that would allow pilots to positively identify targets out to the range of the Hellfire missile-approximately 5-8 km.

The upgrade to the Cobras is part of a broader effort to fix up the Corps' Vietnamera helicopter fleet. Both the Cobra gunship and the Huey utility chopper will get new engines, digital glass cockpits, four-bladed rotors and the airframes will be rebuilt so they can fly 10,000 more hours. About 100 Hueys will change from the UH-1N to the UH-1Y configuration. Between 180-200 refurbished AH-1W Cobras will be renamed AH-1Z.

Five of the rebuilt aircraft already are flying in tests that will continue through 2004, said Marine Col. Doug Isleib, program manager for the UH-1Y and AH-1Z. Of the five, two are UH-1Ys. Of the three AH-1Zs, only two are fully upgraded. The third has the new engine, drivetrain and rotor system, but retains the original AH-1W avionics and cockpit.

The Cobra Huey upgrade program slowly is recovering from a near death experience, when the Defense Department cited it for significant cost overruns and threatened to cancel it. Isleib attributed the problems to a gross underestimation of the cost, dating back to 1996. "We reached a point when we needed to turn things around or find an alternative aircraft," he told National Defense.

Each helicopter now is expected to cost, on average, $16.5 million, a bargain price compared to what new helos cost, Isleib said.

Between 2005-2009, the Marine Corps will spend $1.1 billion on research and development and $5.6 billion to upgrade at least 280 aircraft.

By 2008, the Marine Corps plans to begin fielding fleet squadrons, each composed of six Cobras and three Hueys.

A high-level Pentagon review by the Defense Acquisition Board is scheduled for August. The DAB must give the program the green light before the contractor-Bell Helicopter Textron can begin production. Isleib's office plans to release in July the results of recent operational tests. …

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