Aging Kiowa, vertical unmanned aerial systems among aviation challenges

WASHINGTON — Prob­a­bly by this sum­mer, the Army will be float­ing a new idea past the troops for intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance.

Lt. Col. Hilton Nunez, with Army G-2, talks with Steve Bond of Northrop Grum­man about the Long Endurance Mul­ti-Intel­li­gence Vehi­cle, near a mod­el of the LEMV, dur­ing the Asso­ci­a­tion of the Unit­ed States Army Avi­a­tion Sym­po­sium and Expo­si­tion just out­side Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Jan. 12, 2012.
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Not a pro­gram of record, but some­thing the Army expects to test in Afghanistan this sum­mer, the Long Endurance Mul­ti-Intel­li­gence Vehi­cle. It’s a hybrid air vehi­cle — like a blimp — that can car­ry mul­ti­ple intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance, known as ISR, pay­loads for more than 21 days at alti­tudes greater than 22,000 feet.

While dis­cussing efforts to resource and trans­form Army avi­a­tion dur­ing the Asso­ci­a­tion of the Unit­ed States Army Avi­a­tion Sym­po­sium and Expo­si­tion just out­side Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Jan. 12, Lt. Gen. Robert P. Lennox, deputy chief of staff, Army G-8, touched on the future of ver­ti­cal take-off and land­ing unmanned aer­i­al sys­tems, or UAS.

The gen­er­al said Army avi­a­tion has a “good path” for ver­ti­cal UAS.

“We are using over­seas con­tin­gency oper­a­tions dol­lars and we are hus­tling sys­tems to the­ater and we hope to learn from that,” Lennox explained.

The LEMV, devel­oped by Northrop Grum­man, “has got some real promise,” the gen­er­al said. “We will see the val­ue of the per­sis­tent stare that that gives us.”

Oth­er ver­ti­cal take-off and land­ing, or VTOL, capa­bil­i­ties the Army is look­ing at include the Boe­ing A160 Hum­ming­bird.

“It’s won­der­ful not being tied to a long run­way,” Lennox said. And the platform’s long endurance and “pret­ty good stare capa­bil­i­ty when teamed with some of the lat­est sen­sors, I think it can give us some pow­er­ful capa­bil­i­ties.”

Where such pieces of equip­ment can go in the Army, or if the Army can even afford them, remains to be seen, he said. “We think it’ll help in Afghan sig­nif­i­cant­ly.”

Lt. Gen. William N. Phillips, with the Army Acqui­si­tion Corps and the Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of the Army for Acqui­si­tion, Logis­tics and Tech­nol­o­gy, said the Army must con­sid­er ver­ti­cal UAS “through an afford­abil­i­ty lens. What does this pro­vide to the Army, what capa­bil­i­ty could it pro­vide and then again how much does it cost?”

Lennox said the Kiowa War­rior fleet is now about 35 years old, on aver­age. The rest of the heli­copters in Army avi­a­tion are about 15–20 years old, and have been “used at incred­i­ble rates over the last ten years,” he said.

The gen­er­al said Con­gress and indus­try have helped reset the fleet. “But we haven’t fixed the age of the fleet, and the one that stands out like a sore thumb is the Kiowa War­rior,” Lennox explained. “We have to fig­ure out some­thing to do with that.”

Two options for that air­craft include con­tin­u­a­tion of the Cock­pit And Sen­sor Upgrade Pro­gram along with the Ser­vice Life Exten­sion Pro­gram.

“We can do that now,” he said, and “rel­a­tive­ly cheap­ly.”

That option comes to between $2.9 and $4.1 bil­lion, he said. Anoth­er option, which would be to devel­op a replace­ment, might run as much as $12 bil­lion.

“My chal­lenge for the Army is how do you afford that?” Lennox said.

Chal­lenges for Army avi­a­tion, Lennox said, also include mod­ern­iz­ing an Army fleet that con­tin­ues to be used at his­tor­i­cal rates and will like­ly con­tin­ue to be used that way.

It will be a chal­lenge to fix exist­ing short­ages, Lennox said, like the Kiowa War­rior. One solu­tion might be to devel­op an Armed Aer­i­al Scout to replace the Kiowa War­rior, he said.

Oth­er chal­lenges includ­ed: mul­ti-year con­tracts, mod­ern­iza­tion of unmanned aer­i­al sys­tems, incre­men­tal­ly improv­ing air­craft, and devel­op­ing the right avi­a­tion force struc­ture.

Right now, said Col. Patrick Tier­ney, direc­tor of Army Avi­a­tion, the Army’s avi­a­tion port­fo­lio is in “good health.” About sev­en per­cent of the Army force is avi­a­tion — though it is an expen­sive part.

There are cur­rent­ly 12 active-com­po­nent com­bat avi­a­tion brigades, with a 13th com­ing. There are also eight Reserve-com­po­nent CABs. The Army has about 3,850 rotary air­craft, about 350 fixed-wing air­craft and more than 5,000 vehi­cles total of all sizes among its unmanned aer­i­al sys­tems.

Phillips said the Army has expe­ri­enced “expo­nen­tial growth in UAVs,” and the growth, he said, has been suc­cess­ful.

“The ground brigade com­man­ders, bat­tal­ion com­man­ders, com­pa­ny com­man­ders — have learned how to use UAVs in the most extra­or­di­nary ways, to extend their abil­i­ty to achieve a sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness on the bat­tle­field.”

The Army’s fis­cal year 2012 invest­ment port­fo­lio includes $2 bil­lion for util­i­ty heli­copters, includ­ing vari­ants of the UH-60 Black Hawk; about $700 mil­lion for UAS; over $1 bil­lion for attack heli­copters and about $1.5 bil­lion for the CH-47 Chi­nook. The Army expects to buy about 68 UH-60 Black Hawk vari­ants in the next year, 47 CH-47 Chi­nooks, 19 Block III Apach­es, and 39 of the light util­i­ty heli­copters.

There’s “con­sid­er­able invest­ment in FY12, and it’s going to pay off for us,” Lennox said.

U.S. Army

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