In roll-out ceremonies held at Corpus Christi Army Depot (CCAD) the Army received the first OH-58D Kiowa Warrior to be upgraded under the Wartime Replacement Aircraft (WRA) program.
The WRA Program is the Army’s initiative to replace OH-58D Kiowa Warriors (KW), the primary air cavalry helicopter. The Army is aggressively pursuing ways to sustain the fleet and is looking to its industrial base and the entire aviation enterprise to support ongoing fleet upgrades that address obsolescence, improve reliability, increase capability and put OH-58Ds back in the fight.
As such, the WRA program is designed to fill the shortfall between current fleet size and the Army’s approved fleet requirement for 368 OH-58Ds. Since production of the Kiowa Warrior ended in 1999, service planners stress that increasing the number of 58Ds to the soldier is crucial at a time when cost-effective measures are critical.
The resulting WRA program includes a combination of “A2D” model aircraft, under which Bell Helicopter converts an existing A model airframe to a D model aircraft before delivering the aircraft to CCAD for final work, and “new metal” aircraft, under which Bell Helicopter manufactures and delivers new D model cabins.
Speaking to media following the June 7 roll-out, Army representatives said that the current fleet is officially 42 aircraft short of the 368 minimum and that seven additional aircraft are currently undergoing some form of battle damage analysis. As a result, they noted that the WRA program is presently structured as 23 A2D aircraft and 26 new metal aircraft, with final funding anticipated in FY14 to achieve the last of those 49 aircraft.
The WRA Program is a joint effort with CCAD, the Armed Scout Helicopter (ASH) Project Office, the Aviation Field Maintenance Directorate (AFMD), and Bell Helicopter, providing the Army a cost-effective and efficient way to replenish lost aircraft. This aircraft, completed seven weeks ahead of schedule, represents the first Kiowa Warrior to be produced as part of that joint venture and is the first one to increase Army fleet density in more than a decade.
“This is a significant milestone for our Army as we deliver the first Kiowa Warrior that replenishes the fleet under the Wartime Replacement Program,” said Lt. Col. Matt Hannah, product manager for Kiowa Warrior helicopters. “This is the beginning of a bright future for our scout pilots and Army aviation. I am extremely proud of this team.”
This A2D wartime replacement cabin was inducted at Bell Helicopter, Amarillo, Texas facility for conversion in December 2010 and completed in December 2011. The cabin was then delivered to CCAD in January 2012 where CCAD completed final assembly operations and flight test.
The success of the WRA program process was proven with the completion of an earlier KW, aircraft in December 2011. However, because it did not increase the Kiowa Warrior fleet density, that aircraft was not classified as a WRA, but it was restored to service and served as the pilot for all future WRA production aircraft.
While acknowledging that fleet attrition continues to be a serious problem with an average of six OH-58Ds lost per year, Army representatives emphasized that the Kiowa Warrior has logged more than 800,000 combat hours between Iraq and Afghanistan where it battles sand, snow and high altitudes, stressing that the KWs are life-saving assets for troops on the ground.
Service representatives at the CCAD event were quick to avoid any connection between the WRA program and continuing service interest in an Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) platform. In fact, they noted that noted that the Army will rely on the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior as the primary air cavalry helicopter at least until 2025.
Sadly, the significance of the WRA program for a fleet in such high demand was poignantly reinforced by reports that another OH-58D had been shot down the previous day over Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, reportedly killing both crew members on board.