With more than 750,000 fleet combat hours, the U.S. Army’s OH-58D Kiowa Warrior is a combat- proven aircraft that is safe, rugged and reliable, maintaining the highest operational tempo and readiness rate of any Army helicopter operating in Afghanistan and Iraq. The critical role being performed by the OH-58D fleet has helped to illuminate ongoing service studies regarding the Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) role on future battlefields.
As multiple industry teams stake their positions in anticipation of service and DoD program acquisition decisions surrounding the AAS Analysis of Alternatives, parallel efforts are being focused on maintaining the viability of the current OH-58D Kiowa Warrior fleet.
One of those critical fleet efforts was in the spotlight on June 30, 2011, when Bell Helicopter, a Textron Inc. company, and the U.S. Army Armed Scout Helicopter program office announced the delivery of the first OH-58 “A2D” wartime replacement cabin for the OH-58D platform to the Army.
The “A2D” conversion program is an Army initiative to replace wartime losses suffered by the OH-58D fleet. This program takes existing “A” model OH-58 helicopter cabins and upgrades them to “D” model capabilities.
All OH-58D Kiowa Warriors in the current Army fleet started as “A” model aircraft that have been converted through their life cycle.
The older OH-58A cabins have a 3500-pound max gross weight capability. The “A2D” upgrade process increases the cabin structure to support a 5500-pound maximum gross weight capability, which is the current operating capability for the Kiowa Warrior. The enhanced cabins will then be shipped to Corpus Christi Army Depot where they will be equipped with avionics and dynamic components so they can be returned to the fleet to support the warfighter.
In addition to its role on the “A2D” conversion program, Corpus Christ Army Depot is also performing an OH-58D Crash Battle Damaged (CBD) repair program to return Kiowa Warriors to the fight as part of the Army’s effort to reduce platform sustainment costs and contain the expense of replacing aging helicopters.
Referring to the first delivered “A2D” cabin as “the foundation for producing the wartime replacement aircraft,” Lt. Col. Mathew Hannah, incoming U.S. Army product manager for the Kiowa Warrior cautioned, “It is key to remember that this is just the beginning.”
In fact, the currently contracted conversion program still falls short of Army fleet requirements. According to Hannah, current Army requirements call for a fleet of 368 OH-58D Kiowa Warrior aircraft, but the fleet is currently 40 aircraft short of that quantity. The 19 “A2D” replacement cabins now under contract will not return the fleet to its required size.
“This cabin is the first one delivered for our “A2D” contract with the U.S. Army, which calls for an additional 18 cabin conversions that we have under contract currently,” explained Jim Schultz, director for Army programs and fielded systems at Bell Helicopter.
Noting that the initial conversion has occurred at Bell Helicopter’s “Xworx” rapid prototyping facility in Arlington, Texas, Schultz added, “The remaining ‘A2D’ conversions will take place at our military assembly center in Amarillo, Texas, where we have established a ‘hot’ production line. Bell Helicopter is also working with our U.S. Army customer for a potential option to replace wartime losses with ‘new metal’ cabins, reducing overall fleet age.”
The “new metal” cabin option was used to build 39 aircraft for the Taiwanese Government from the mid-1990s through 2001 and is seen as one possible solution to an aircraft quantity shortfall.
Hannah described the situation beyond the 19 replacements as “pre-decisional,” acknowledging that a “new metal” cabin was one option that Bell was exploring.
“Based on the results of that effort the Army will make the decision on what the right direction to go is,” he said.
The second cabin under the current “A2D” conversion program is contracted for delivery in January 2012, with follow-on cabin deliveries taking place monthly starting in March 2012.
In addition to satisfying fleet size requirements, the Kiowa Warrior government/industry team is working to introduce available technologies into the aircraft. A clear example can be found in the OH-58F (“Fox”) designation applied and approved late last year to a series of leap-ahead technologies and increased capabilities through the implementation of a Cockpit and Sensor Upgrade Program (CASUP).
The program manager for Kiowa Warrior launched the program in accordance with the Defense Department guidance to spend near-term Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter funds to sustain the existing Kiowa Warrior fleet.
According to program descriptions, The Fox Model Kiowa Warrior capitalizes on non-developmental items and systems fielded on other aviation platforms to rapidly install, modify or provide the following: advanced Nose Mounted Sensor, improved cockpit control hardware and software for enhanced situational awareness, three full color Multi-function Displays, dual-redundant digital engine controller for enhanced engine safety, digital inter-cockpit communications, digital Hellfire future upgrades, Aircraft Survivability Equipment (ASE) upgrades, and a redesigned aircraft wiring harness. Additionally, the Fox model will fully integrate the capabilities of Level 2 Manned Unmanned Teaming, Common Missile Warning System (CMWS), Health and Usage Monitoring (HUMS), and enhanced weapons functionality via 1760 digital interface.
Significantly, the OH-58F also provides a foundation for Bell Helicopter’s positioning on a potential AAS competition.
While Hannah declined to talk specifics of the AAS AoA due to the pre-decisional nature of the results, Bell Helicopter’s Schultz pointed to a related company milestone involving the Bell Helicopter OH-58D “Block II” demonstrator aircraft.
The Block II demonstrator builds on the F model CASUP improvements by adding a new engine, transmission and rotor system. Company releases characterize the Block II as providing “an attractive, cost efficient alternative for the U.S. Army and U.S. taxpayer, and will demonstrate Bell helicopter’s ability to meet or exceed all performance requirements for the Army’s Armed Aerial Scout.”
The Block II demonstrator conducted its first flight at Bell Helicopter’s Xworx facility on April 14, 2011.
The latest demonstrator milestone, announced on June 27, 2011, involved the demonstrator showing “hover out of ground effect performance that exceeds the maximum gross aircraft weight of 5,500 pounds at 6k95 [6,000 feet on a 95 degree day] during test flights conducted in Colorado.”
“We completed several test flights at several different altitudes and temperatures, each to prove the OH-58 could perform at minimum altitude of 6,000 feet on a 95 degree day,” said Jeff Lowinger, executive vice president Engineering and Xworx for Bell Helicopter. “Each test was more impressive than the last. The OH-58 exceeded our most optimistic expectations.”