Armed Aerial Scout competition draws 7 hopefuls

AgustaWestland, AVX, Bell, Boeing, Eurocopter, MD and Sikorsky look to win US Army's AAS award for up to 368 new helicopters to replace Bell's OH58D Kiowa Warrior.

By Stuart Lau
ATP/FE/CFII Boeing 747, 747-400, 757/767, CRJ and Saab 340

Battlefield V/STOL machines in the US Army's current arsenal consist mainly of heavyweights like the CH47 Chinook, V22 Osprey tiltrotor, UH60 Black Hawk and AH64 Apache. Experienced Army officers have voiced a need for an Armed Aerial Scout with high speed, better hot-and-high performance and more powerful weapon capability than the current OH58D Kiowa Warrior shown in the center circle photo.

Recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan exposed severe performance and capability shortcomings of the US Army's current armed reconnaissance platform—the Bell OH58D Kiowa Warrior.

These limitations put US warfighters—both on the ground and in the air—at risk. Now, reportedly, the Army will decide by the end of this year whether to replace the aircraft with a new Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) or further update a vulnerable 40-year-old design.
Two earlier attempts in the past decade to replace the Kiowa Warrior failed.

The Boeing-Sikorsky RAH66 Comanche was killed by cost overruns in 2004. Four years later, a similar fate befell the Bell ARH70A Arapaho armed reconnaissance helicopter program.

Now, under the US's "fiscally austere" environment, the current AAS program has reached a critical juncture. Manufacturers have been pouring millions of dollars into AAS configured helicopter projects with hopes of being awarded a large contract for up to 368 aircraft. At $13–15 million per copy, the stakes are high, but the message from Washington has not always been clear.

In all, 7 manufacturers have taken aim at the AAS program. Most AAS contenders are conventional in design—others offer new concepts.

Examples of exciting new technologies are AVX Aircraft's patented compound coaxial rotor and dual-ducted-fan system and the Sikorsky S97 Raider, based on the FBW flight control coaxial/pusher configuration that propelled the X2 technology demonstrator to over 250 kts.

In any case, all the manufacturers are promising increased capabilities and performance over the current Kiowa Warrior. Ultimately, many of these technological advances and improvements will likely be passed on to civil helicopters, increasing safety, utility and performance.

Mind the gap

In 2009, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) identified specific OH58D capability gaps. Many of the gaps identified are being addressed through the OH58F upgrade, which incorporates the cockpit and sensor upgrade program (CASUP). These improvements are part of an Army-led initiative, and relate mainly to obsolescence and sensor capabilities such as joint, combined and multinational interoperability, versatility (ability to react to mission task changes) and sustainability through component and airframe limits.

JROC OH58D performance gaps were identified as limited lift and maneuvering capability at mission weights in a 4000-ft/95°F environment and inability to operate in 6000-ft/95°F (6K/95) conditions.

Additional shortcomings in the D model include lack of range, speed, crash survivability and high-risk autorotation traits. The US Army has not yet released an RFP for AAS. How­ever, it is widely expected that any required specs will have to satisfy these performance-related capability gaps.

It is important to note that CASUP is a stop-gap or bridge program. It does not "zero time" the airframe or improve performance. In fact, according to Kiowa Warrior Product Mgr Lt Col Matt Hannah, "about 60% of the airframe will be re­placed, but there's 40% that is still literally 42 years old today—and, when you finish the production line, 55 years old."

A decision is pending now on whether to replace the aircraft with the AAS or overhaul the Kiowa War­rior completely by means of a service life extension program (SLEP).
In Oct 2011, the Army announced a voluntary flight demonstration/ request for information (VFD/RFI) plan for the yet undefined AAS project.

By late 2012, 5 manufacturers—AgustaWestland, Bell, Boeing, EADS/Eurocopter and MD Helicopters—had demonstrated their aircraft to the Army. The Army was cautious to frame this exercise as simply a demonstration and not a fly-off competition. Under the VFD/RFI plan, the Army analyzed the results of the flights and had discussions with industry to "determine if an achievable, affordable capability exists with moderate risk."

Sequestration blues

Since sequestration, the Defense Dept budget has been restrained and the AAS program timeline and priorities have been tossed up in the air. Before sequestration, Army Maj Gen Tim Crosby called AAS the "service's number 1 need." Crosby is largely responsible for managing the Army's aviation assets. Then, in Jan 2013, Vice Chief of the Army Gen Lloyd Austin redirected Crosby to collect more information on the Army's options—this after more than 12 months of studying the fielded AAS aircraft.

According to Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter Product Mgr Lt Col James Mills, "Army and [Office of the Secretary of Defense] leadership have been briefed on the AAS study but are awaiting this additional information prior to making the decision. Needless to say, fiscal uncertainty has affected AAS affordability decisions."

On Apr 30, 2013, Army Secretary John McHugh announced, "Five manufacturers demonstrated their helicopters this past fall, but none of them had capabilities that justified the cost of kicking off a new program. We have the money in the '14 budget to continue to look at that—but if we're going to make that kind of investment, we think there has to be new and added value to the platform."

He added, "Upgrades to the Kiowa Warrior's sensors and cockpit (through the OH58F/CASUP program) will keep it operational into the 2030s, but the Army still needs to find a next-generation capability to meet its needs after that."

Recent statements from Army leadership have drawn concern from industry. EADS North America Chairman & CEO Sean O'Keefe stated, "Following our high-altitude voluntary flight demonstration of the AAS72X+ Armed Aerial Scout, Army evaluators advised us that they rated our platform superior in operational effectiveness and affordable in a militarized configuration according to the Army pricing model.

As such, we're struggling to understand report­ed comments suggesting a lack of capable and affordable AAS candidates. We will engage with the Army leadership to better understand the intent and make adjustments to the significant investment we are making to provide a low-risk, near-term solution to the Army's severe AAS capability gap."


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