Lt. Gen. Charles H. Coolidge, USAF (Ret.), is vice president of Air Force Programs for defense contractor EADS North America. Coolidge is also the son of one of our remaining World War II Medal of Honor recipients. Coolidge served 35 years on active duty with the Air Force, and has spent the past eight years working with industry. Over that span, he has firsthand operational knowledge executing the UH-1N ICBM security mission, and has spent considerable time examining potential alternatives to modernize or replace the 40+ year-old Huey.
Robert F. Dorr: The Air Force has looked at alternatives for the venerable UH-1N Huey utility helicopter for more than a decade. The Huey supports the Air Force security mission for its nuclear missile force, as well as air movement support for the National Capital Region, and a myriad of other support missions. Given the fiscal constraints of sequestration and other competing demands, why is replacement of the UH-1N a continuing priority for the Air Force?
Lt. Gen. Charles H. Coolidge: I think Lt. Gen. Jim Kowalski, commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command and operator of 25 of the USAF’s 62 UH-1Ns, said it best in his recent [Capitol] Hill testimony. He stated, “The UH-1N’s deficiencies in range, speed, and payload can only be remedied through replacement with a new platform.” The UH-1N has fallen far short of the operational requirements for many years. Most importantly, the nuclear enterprise and security of the ICBM fleet is a core USAF mission – a mission with no greater priority. This continues to be compromised by the inadequate performance of the UH-1N.
The UH-1N has fallen far short of the operational requirements for many years. Most importantly, the nuclear enterprise and security of the ICBM fleet is a core USAF mission – a mission with no greater priority. This continues to be compromised by the inadequate performance of the UH-1N.
Defense budgets are obviously strained, and every element of the service is having to do more with less. Why should the Huey replacement take precedence over other acquisitions?
Nuclear deterrence remains key to our national security strategy. The UH-1N is tasked to perform a key role in that crucial mission; it requires 24/7 capability in some of the harshest weather conditions in the country. Yet the aircraft is not even IFR-rated, meaning it is ill-equipped to fly at night or in bad weather. Gen. Kowalski must continually sign waivers because the UH-1N cannot meet the ICBM support mission. The Air Force has a strategic opportunity to fix that and actually save money in the process. This is an opportunity that simply makes too much sense to ignore.
You obviously have a solution in mind. Given today’s fiscal environment, what do you propose the Air Force do about the UH-1N?
With a unit cost of $5.5 million, the UH-72A Lakota offers dramatically greater performance at a much lower cost to buy, own, and operate than any other alternative.
To the Air Force’s credit, they have tried to replace the UH-1N three times over the past 10 years. The previous programs failed because they were unaffordable. Requirements and acquisition strategy were not aligned. After the latest program attempt, the Air Force issued a request for information on modernizing the UH-1N. After significant analysis, we determined it was more affordable to replace the UH-1N than modernize it as the Air Force had outlined … provided you did so with the right aircraft.
So why do you argue that the Army’s UH-72A, which your company currently builds in Mississippi, should be the solution to the Air Force requirement?
It’s a solution that costs significantly less than the Air Force’s stated $20 million unit price target from the latest program attempt in 2009. By buying the same helicopter that’s in production with the Army, the Air Force benefits from an existing DoD [Department of Defense] program with already established training and logistics pipelines, keeping start-up costs at near zero. The UH-72 is the only mission-capable solution that gets cost way down, to at or below the level of the UH-1N. In fact, it’s actually 30 percent cheaper to operate the UH-72 than the UH-1N on a day-to-day basis. So it starts saving operations and maintenance funds almost immediately.
The UH-72 is the only mission-capable solution that gets cost way down, to at or below the level of the UH-1N. In fact, it’s actually 30 percent cheaper to operate the UH-72 than the UH-1N on a day-to-day basis. So it starts saving operations and maintenance funds almost immediately.
Cost savings are only compelling if the aircraft can accomplish the mission objective. As I understand them, the Air Force requirements for the nuclear support mission are quite demanding, dating to immediately after 9/11. Does the UH-72 meet Air Force mission objectives?
It can absolutely accomplish the objective, and provides a huge leap in capability over what the Air Force is living with now. The Air Force has laid out three distinct mission scenarios, each requiring very specific tasks and levels of performance. The Lakota easily meets the performance requirements for two of the three projected mission scenarios. The third and most demanding scenario involves nuclear ICBM site security, and the Lakota meets that requirement as well, using three aircraft to deliver the required response force rather than the two projected by the scenario. This extra aircraft actually enhances mission effectiveness in a number of ways, and those three aircraft still cost less than one of any other viable alternative aircraft.