Magazine article National Defense

Are We There Yet? Army Pushes Forward with Troubled Scout Helicopter

Magazine article National Defense

Are We There Yet? Army Pushes Forward with Troubled Scout Helicopter

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Despite a string of delays and billions of dollars in cost increases, the Army has regained confidence in its ARH-70A armed reconnaissance helicopter.

Price and scheduling problems nearly forced Army leadership to scrap the new scout helicopter last year. But now, as the service carves out a revised strategy for the troubled aircraft, it has set the program back on track, officials say.

"We're on a glide path for fielding the ARH in accordance with the new plan," says Col. Bob Quackenbush, deputy director of Army aviation.

The Army has readjusted its testing and development schedule to get the helicopter into the field by 2011, two years later than originally planned, Quackenbush tells National Defense. It has also increased oversight and plans to require more regular program updates to prevent future problems.

The Army believes that the aircraft, manufactured by Bell Helicopter, is still the best option to replace the aging OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout helicopter, which has been heavily stressed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"If we continue the development and address the shortcomings, I'm 100 percent positive that this is the reconnaissance system that the Army needs for the next 20 years," says Col. Mark Hayes, capability manager for reconnaissance/attack helicopters at the Army's Training and Doctrine Command.

The service's renewed faith in the ARH stems in large part from the "successful" results of the so-called limited user test that was conducted in November, Hayes says.

The critical assessment--which is the gateway to low-rate initial production--had been delayed twice because Bell had problems integrating a sensor package called the target acquisition sight system, says Lisa Eichorn, spokeswoman for the Army aviation warfighting center.

Hayes would not give specific details about the test results because they had not been published, but sounded positive about the program's future.

"For the rest of this year, you will see us build on the success of limited user test one ... I will tell you that for the systems we looked at, those items that we tested, this is a pretty dang robust armored reconnaissance machine."

Testing delays were a result of the Army's failed attempt to quickly field a helicopter based on commercial-off-the-shelf technology, or COTS. Program officials and industry executives originally thought they could dramatically cut costs and shave off precious development years by using a commercial aircraft.

The original concept for ARH was to take Bell's commercial 407 single engine light helicopter and add features that would make it suitable for combat, says Michael Blake, Bell's vice president of customer solutions. Those add-ons included a larger engine, a different transmission, the targeting sensor, armaments and other combat survivability gear.

But now, four years after the program was first conceived, both the Army and Bell have acknowledged it was a costly experiment.

The issue with the COTS concept, Blake says, was a "lack of appreciation" for the differences between commercial and military aircraft. He explains that Army officials were trying to take an aircraft with Federal Aviation Administration certification and convert it to a combat qualified helicopter without knowing how to do it.

Army personnel involved with the program were relying on their Comanche experience, Blake said, and didn't take into account the disparity between FAA and military approval processes.

For example, he said during an interview, "I'm not going to do evasive maneuvers for the FAA, but you may have to do it for the Army."

Comanche was a previous scout helicopter program that failed to produce an aircraft after 21 years in development and was killed in 2004.

Hayes agrees, saying that no one knew how to solve those problems. …

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