USA — Kiowa enhancements to give aging warrior new life

WASHINGTON — The Kiowa War­rior OH-58D, the Army’s pri­ma­ry armed recon­nais­sance scout air­craft in Iraq and Afghanistan, is about to get a makeover that will extend its life well into the future.

Soldiers from the 27th Iraqi Army Fires Brigade watch as an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior from Task Force Saber, 1st Infantry Division, flies overhead earlier this year.
Sol­diers from the 27th Iraqi Army Fires Brigade watch as an OH-58D Kiowa War­rior from Task Force Saber, 1st Infantry Divi­sion, flies over­head ear­li­er this year.
Pho­to cred­it Spc. Roland Hale
Click to enlarge

Col. Robert Grigs­by, project man­ag­er for the Kiowa War­rior Prod­uct Man­age­ment Office, Red­stone Arse­nal, Ala., told avi­a­tion writ­ers dur­ing the 2010 Asso­ci­a­tion of the U.S. Army’s Annu­al Meet­ing and Exhi­bi­tion Tues­day that a new equip­ment pack­age planned for the OH-58D includes such items as an upgrad­ed sen­sor, dig­i­tal inter-cock­pit com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and soft­ware for enhanced sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness that will keep the air­craft fight­ing for years to come. 

“Once the Army deter­mines what the path to the future is for the armed aer­i­al scout, that will deter­mine how long the Kiowa War­rior will be in the inven­to­ry,” he said. “What we’ve done is pro­vide the capa­bil­i­ty to keep this air­craft viable while the Army makes that decision. ” 

Sev­er­al upgrades are slat­ed for the OH-58D, which will be re-des­ig­nat­ed as the F mod­el, but per­haps the great­est with will be the level‑2 Manned-Unmanned team­ing. Grigs­by said this tech­nol­o­gy will enable Kiowa avi­a­tors to receive and trans­mit full-motion video between oth­er air­craft to include unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cles. Work­ing with the Army Avi­a­tion Applied Tech­nol­o­gy Direc­torate at Fort Eustis, Va., the sys­tem was suc­cess­ful­ly test­ed in July 2009 and recent­ly inte­grat­ed into the aircraft. 

“This is the first oppor­tu­ni­ty for the scout air­craft to have the same capa­bil­i­ty that was put into the Apache fleet and (it will) give them the oppor­tu­ni­ty to see data in their cock­pit that’s com­ing in from UAVs of a poten­tial tar­get area. This gives them sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness pri­or to com­ing on the scene and (and enables them to) be able to rapid­ly engage the target.” 

Kiowa pilots will now be able to trans­mit their own sen­sor data to troops on the ground as well. 

Among sev­er­al oth­er improve­ments to the air­craft will be an advanced Nose Mount­ed Elec­tro Opti­cal Sen­sor, improved cock­pit con­trol hard­ware, full-col­or mul­ti-func­tion dis­plays, and dig­i­tal HELLFIRE mis­sile future upgrades. 

Grigs­by said all these changes will make the Kiowa War­rior more effec­tive on the bat­tle­field. “What it will do in my opin­ion is pro­vide an air­craft that is more suit­ed to the oper­a­tional envi­ron­ment in which our Sol­diers are hav­ing to fly in, and allow them to pro­vide bet­ter sup­port to the warfight­er on the ground.” 

For an air­craft the Army has relied on for 39 years and seen its share of com­bat, the upgrades could not come at a bet­ter time. Grigs­by not­ed that since 2001, the Kiowa accounts for near­ly 50 per­cent of recon­nais­sance and attack mis­sions flown in Iraq and Afghanistan, the high­est of all Army avi­a­tion assets. He added that while the air­craft is designed to fly about 14 flight hours per month, the oper­a­tional tem­po from sup­port­ing two wars has result­ed in the OH-58D pulling lots of overtime. 

“We are fly­ing an aver­age 85–90 hours per month on these air­craft because the warfight­er wants them fly­ing. They depend on the Kiowa War­rior being there when they need them. ” 

Mean­while, Grigs­by said changes to the OH-58 plat­form will come over time. “It’s an incre­men­tal approach to how we upgrade the air­craft, to get it where it needs to be and pro­vide the warfight­er with this enhanced capa­bil­i­ty,” he added. 

He said upgrades such as the rein­forced floor armor is being install now, while the man-ummanned team­ing sys­tem is sched­uled to be installed in 2011. The Army plans for the OH-58F mod­el to begin field­ing in the fourth quar­ter of fis­cal year 2015. 

In the mean­time, Grigs­by said the Army intends to bol­ster its inven­to­ry of the OH58D by con­tin­u­ing to con­vert old­er OH-58A mod­els. There are cur­rent­ly 331 Kiowa air­craft on hand after los­ing 44 of them since 2003 to ene­my fire and accidents. 

“We have an autho­riza­tion to go out and buy wartime replace­ment air­craft, so what we are doing is tak­ing Alpha mod­el OH58s and con­vert­ing them into D mod­els. The plan is to even­tu­al­ly con­vert to new met­al pro­duc­tion air­craft as we move for­ward and the sup­ply of OH-58A’s dries up.” 

U.S. Army 

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