“ARMY OF ONE” LESS HELICOPTER TYPE?: ARMY MAY SAY GOODBYE TO THE OH-58 KIOWA

OH-58D_850x-01Amazing. After over a decade of incredibly efficient and deadly warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as successfully and economically training future Army helicopter pilots for decades, the OH-58 Kiowa may be put to rest… For good.

Replacing or upgrading the OH-58D has been a never-ending story for the US Army that dates back to before the RAH-66 Comanche program. Today, a large portion of the OH-58 fleet is supposed to be recapitalized through an upgrade and refurbishment program to keep it viable until a successor is purchased, namely the innovative S-97 Raider. Just over a half decade ago, a couple of years after the cancellation of the RAH-66 Comanche, the OH-58D was going to be replaced by its modern cousin, the ARH-70 Arapaho, a militarized Bell 407. 9a355d02Even this less than innovative replacement program for the OH-58D died due to cost overruns and the massive outflow of cash to pay for two wars that were only getting worse, not better.

Fast forward to today, where sequestration is a stark reality, and it looks like the Army is just going to delete the highly relevant, economical and proven Kiowas as a whole. In the OH-58D’s place, the Army would place the AH-64D/E by assuming all Apaches to the active force and transferring large amounts of UH-60 Blackhawks to the National Guard and the Reserves. Once again, the net loss would be the OH-58, not just in its armed scout role, but also in the training, and logistics roles. The total force of close to 400 Kiowas in inventory would be eliminated in full. 090306-A-2421S-221The Army would fulfill its training role by assuming the inventory of UH-72 Lakota light utility helicopters, an aircraft based on the twin-engine Eurocopter EC-145. The hole made by the Lakota transfer to a training role would presumably be filled by the transferred Blackhawks, at least to a limited extent.

Here we go again folks. The military, in an effort to balance its books, is trying to chop the least complex, yet most affordable weapon system in its air combat inventories. Instead of chopping different platforms inventories, the brass and the Pentagon’s “often wrong, rarely right” bean counters are pulling to divest themselves of an entire weapon system. Instead of trimming their hair they are just buzzing it off, in true Army fashion. I think it’s almost comical that the military always tries to cut its most efficient, easiest to maintain, and effective weapon systems in its bid to “save money.” The A-10 Warthog is the USAF’s analogue in this case, a relatively simple machine that uses commercially available motors and simple flight control systems to get the job done. The Kiowas are even one step more affordable, as they are based on the single engine Bell Jet Ranger, one of the most prolific helicopters even made with a massive logistics train that spans the entire globe.

AH-64D Apache Longbow_3Instead, they will OH-58D will be “replaced,” or should I say “reshuffled” with complex and heavy aircraft that have two motors instead of one. So instead of opting to “shave the force down” the Army is opting for a one size fits all solution, the AH-64 Apache.

The Apache, especially in its current “echo” form, packs an incredibly powerful and deadly punch. But it does this at a high cost, both for acquisition, operation and sustainment. Additionally, for the majority of missions any helicopter gunship has found itself in over the last decade, you do not need 16 Hellfire missiles to get the job done. Especially for over-watch and escort duties. 450x300_q75The OH-58D’s mix of cannons, rockets and Hellfire missiles, paired with high availability and low-cost, has been incredibly effective over the battlefields of the new millennium. Additionally, the Kiowa and its intrepid crews, can do something the AH-64 cannot, once the munitions run out the crew can pick up their M4s and “shoot from the saddle” in a pinch. In other words, the little nimble Kiowas can work very close to those they support on the ground. Also, any helicopter can only be in one place at one time, no matter how capable. Sikorsky-battlehawk-2By divesting so many helicopters capable of dispensing munitions from Army inventories, it will limit the force’s ability to put large quantities of rotory-wing “shooters” in the field. Hellfire missile racks and associated avionics for some of the Army’s Blackhawk fleet would help this situation, but then again you are decreasing the amount of utility and transport helicopters available at any given time by using a portion of the Blackhawks in this role. Maybe the Army should ask itself- Do you really need 800 Apaches? What about cutting some Apache that are not slated to be upgraded to “Echo” standard, and retire half of the Kiowa Warrior fleet? Why does it have to be all or nothing when it comes to the Kiowa fleet?

id_th67_creek_02_700With this mega-reshuffle we will also see the US Army train new pilots on a twin-engined cavernous Eurocopter. Hardly the ideal platform for such a rudimentary role. One that will cost more down the line in operational costs than the diminutive TH-67s currently in service. Conversely, one would assume that the utility roles that were once the UH-72′s reason for existence will be picked up by UH-60s transferred from the active force. So once again, you have a much larger, more thirsty, more complex machine accomplishing the role that is traditionally filled by a less expensive and small asset. The whole reason $22M Blackhawks were not originally fielded for this mission is that it only requires a $6M Lakota. So by back-filling some of the holes left by transferring the new UH-72s to the training mission with Blackhawks, you essentially do the opposite of saving money, you spend much more of it over time for missions that have no requirement for greater investment.

Operation Iraqi FreedomIn the end, this “meat cleaver” forms of “cutting” defense budgets ends in a more costly yet smaller force, one that is less flexible and wrought with needless excess capabilities and lower air-frame density. As these assets age, the next metaphorical shoe to drop will be the need to once again step back to less expensive airframes with less capability in an attempt to save money and “rationalize” the force. You do not need a Blackhawk for basic stateside logistics and you do not need an AH-64E Apache for basic helicopter scouting roles, and you sure as hell do not need an EC-145 for basic pilot training. So instead of shrinking each communities end strength based on what the Army actually needs, they want to pick one community out for disbandment, and by doing so they are going to make every other mission the Army rotary wing fleet currently performs either largely more expensive, or at best, the same cost. 1441199-mainGreat way to save money guys! And what does this mean for the S-92 Raider that the Army is so hot to buy, or the Joint Multi-Role Helicopter program (the F-35 of the whirly-bird world) that is supposed to end in a “winner” that will supply an even more complex and expensive airframe than the Blackhawks in service? If we cannot afford to upgrade and fly a few hundred modified Bell Jet Rangers, I highly doubt we are going to be able to afford a sea of tilt-rotors to replace the Blackhawk, yet alone a pusher coaxial rotor equipped speed demon armed reconnaissance helicopter to provide a mission set that we are about to terminate as a whole. This whole type of disconnect between the DoD’s wants and the current state of the force that already paid for is just tiresome and childish at this point.

bell-v-280-valor-tiltrotor-5Commonality, one-size-fits-all, highly complex fleets of aircraft are not the way to balance our budget or give the war fighter the best tools to survive and win above enemy territory. The DoD’s inability to admit this truth (see the F-35 and the LCS for starters) will end up costing Americans more money (and thus sovereignty) down the road, not to mention that it will also cost lives should an unforeseen conflict arise, and they always do…

http://www.defensenews.com/article/20131208/DEFREG02/312080003/US-Army-Plans-Scrap-Kiowa-Helo-Fleet

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11 Responses to “ARMY OF ONE” LESS HELICOPTER TYPE?: ARMY MAY SAY GOODBYE TO THE OH-58 KIOWA

  1. aerodawg says:

    It’s sad how bad US Army procurement is right now. The failure of ARH as a program, means in essence, that the US Army procurement apparatus could not even bolt existing hardware onto an existing helicopter and come in on budget.

    What makes that even more sad is the fact that not only did Bell already have a VERY similar aircraft in the 407AH but the US Army managed to put something VERY similar to ARH together for the Iraqi Army in the IA-407.

    At this point we’re more successful at building aircraft for foreign militaries than we are for our own.

  2. Nuno Gomes says:

    If the army wants a new helo,whats wrong with the Boeing AH-6S Phoenix?If not just upgrade the Kiowa and whait for the S-97 Raider…
    But using the Apache in this role…its like using a hammer to kill a fly!

  3. Keith says:

    Just wondering if it’s possible the Kiowa cannot fulfill it’s role as a scout for Apache’s in a truly contested environment? That would be say if the US intervened against a highly competent foe (China/Russia “like” countries if not those 2) and its role was pinpointing armor formations. I’d think a cheaper drone alternative might amke sense then until the new chopper types come on line. The Apache as the scout doesn’t make much sense excluding if it was against hordes of armor formations, in which case it might be the best. But looking for some taliban for instance is not worth an Apache’s air time.

  4. Killer12 says:

    This is an obviously bias article! Apaches in todays theater don’t carry 16 hellfires, rather 4 at the most along with 36 assorted rockets and 300 rds of HE 30mm…a real cannon! Kiowas use a .50 cal (not a “cannon”) which is fixed mounted and pilots use a crude grease pencil mark on the windshield to engage targets, and never ONCE carried a hellfire in the year we conducted missions with each other in the same AO . The AH-64 carries 4x the munitions than that of the Kiowa, as well as 3x the station time, at least 4x the stand off, and with two engines is more reliable in combat! It’s a long time coming that the OH-58 get replaced by an aircraft that has the capability to cover ALL the roles and I for one can’t wait for it to happen!!! Ohhhh…and for all those who think that the Apache cost to much money to maintain, we flew 11,000 hours with 8 aircraft and never once dropped a mission due to maintenance! The Kiowas had 16 aircraft and only flew 15,000 hours, what’s up now?!

    • aviationintel.com says:

      Thanks for the input Killer12, much appreciated. A couple things though, this site is NOT a news site. It is an editorial site about defense issues, usually aviation focused. So if you are looking for just information, not the right place.

      Because Afghanistan does not warrant the Apache to carry 16 AGM-114s does not mean that it will not in future conflicts or has not in the past. 4X the stand off? I disagree with this as engagement distance is munitions dependent not sensor dependent in this case.

      Because Afghanistan, an occupation/COIN centered operation does not require a scout helicopter does not mean throwing down an all Apache force, and eliminating hundreds of airborne close air support/surveillance platforms in the process, is relevant to most conflicts yet alone those in the future. During a peer state conflict it will be about numbers as much as capabilities, so this debate, like most things on this site, goes far beyond “which is better” but runs deeper into cost/availability and especially overall end strength force structure.

      The cost information you present at the end of your comment is not relevant.

      Stick around here a bit, read some old posts, I think you will like it here and your opinion is always welcome!

      • Killer12 says:

        Just curious sir what your background is bc I have deployed as an aviator and I know exactly what the capabilities of the aircraft are, I know exactly what is involved in COIN vs Cold War era tactics, and I’ve worked with my scout brothern on the battlefield! The Kiowa was not and is not designed for “airborn close air support”, it’s a scout aircraft and it’s weapons are for self defense purposes only! With the upgraded sights/sensors of the apache we are able to accomplish both the attack/ support role which we were designed for AND the role of scouting!
        Also why would we have two air frames when we can just have one…think of the reduction in training, tools, parts! When we go to war we are required to bring our own resources, and having one less aircraft to provide for would be great!
        So have you ever been in an aviation unit?
        Have you ever flown a military aircraft?
        Have you ever supported troops with an aircraft in combat?

        • aviationintel.com says:

          “So have you ever been in an aviation unit?
          Have you ever flown a military aircraft?
          Have you ever supported troops with an aircraft in combat?”

          No, no, and no. And I do appreciate your service greatly by the way.

          The idea that because I have not worn the uniform that I cannot comment on issues I have spent my whole life studying is totally absurd. I run into this all the time. I have talked to key folks in uniform that have no clue what the big picture was outside of operating their mount to its maximum effectiveness and those who could discuss these issues in an informed nature. Nothing wrong with either way of doing business, but to say that someone’s opinion does not matter because they have not served with a unit related to the subject matter is a pretty limited viewpoint. Listen, seeing as you think I am unqualified by reading one article and disagreeing on that one article and then proceeding to demand I explain myself I don’t know if this debate is worthwhile. Read through my work then let’s talk. I can give you great references from Nova, Rolling Stone, Christian Science Monitor, nationally syndicated talk radio and many others that will swear by my accuracy and opinions, enough to go to print or on air with them continuously.

          A Kiowa’s weapons are for self defense purposes only? How many times have Kiowas been called in for direct fire support??? huh? AGM-114s a defensive weapon against ground threats aimed toward the helos? Hell, tell that to Saddam’s bastard sons they will disagree with you. Also I still don’t think you understand, this is not replacing the Kiowa with the Apache, it is eliminating the Kiowa and using the Apaches as the only helicopter attack/scout platform. It is a large net loss in airframes capable of delivering fire support. Additionally, when you eliminate hundreds of weapons platforms that are more cost efficient that their replacements and can complete a decent percentage of the missions that their more costly replacement can you degrade your fighting ability, not enhance it. You can have all the capabilities in the world on a single airframe, but a single airframe can only be in one place at one time, and much of that time is spent in MX. We must think beyond Afghanistan, in a peer state conflict numbers will really, really matter. Especially with an all high-tech, maintenance intensive combat aircraft fleet where under idea logistical situations with established and redundant supply chains the aircraft can maintain decent availability, but facing a near-peer belligerent over a vast expanse this will be very different. Also, as I am sure you know, maintaining a QRA and supporting a fairly known tempo of operations is different when it comes sortie completion rates than sustained expeditionary combat situations. In those situations the least complicated weapons platforms, paired with advanced munitions, are more reliable and just as effective. See the tired AH-1W Cobra’s performance in Iraq.

          “Also why would we have two air frames when we can just have one…think of the reduction in training, tools, parts! When we go to war we are required to bring our own resources, and having one less aircraft to provide for would be great!” Are you a big F-35 fan as well?

          I welcome your insight, I want the debate, but please try to make your case instead of calling for people’s resumes and posting exclamations after every sentence. It is not like this issue is just a no-brainer one way road either, I am not the only one with concerns over this plan. Do you also think the A-10 should go so that the F-35 can replace down the road. We are eliminating hundreds of cost effective fixed wing shooters for the price of what, 20 F-35s? Insanity.

        • aerodawg says:

          I can’t speak for our host, but I’m just a lowly aero engineer, helping field some of the aircraft you operate (working mostly fixed wing assets now but have supported both AH-64 and OH-58D). While I don’t always agree completely with othe conclusions of our host for a variety of reasons, he’s never firing blanks and always has logical reasoning behind his opinions.

          In this instance, he’s 100% spot on with his assessment. From a total system operation cost perspective, you can operate significantly more OH-58s than you can AH-64s. Yeah, an AH-64 carries more firepower than an OH-58, but that matters little when you need to support multiple units in multiple locations. If I have 3 widely separated units who all need fire support and I only have 2 aircraft for support, someone is doing without.

          The idea that we can have an effective military based on hugely complicated and expensive “one size fits all and does all” hardware is a fallacy, and one that will get our butt kicked in a fight where the enemy is only a hardware generation behind us instead of a full century behind us.

          Take a look at our own military history way back in WWII. The Nazis had equipment that was superior to just about everything the allies fielded, and yet they lost, overwhelmed by numbers. We may have lost 4 Shermans for every Panther we knocked out but it didn’t matter because we had 10 Shermans for every Panther period….

  5. Mitchell Fuller says:

    Yes, quantity has a quality all it’s own, and we continue to lose depth in our offensive and defensive capabilities, plus those German tanks were complex and required a lot of maintenance and many broke down before even getting to the fight.

    We’ve yet to see our new wonder weapons re F-22 and F-35 perform in high tempo operations, it will be more then academically interesting to see how they perform……….. I think our flag officers plan for defense is too make war too expensive to fight………. Look at the money spent on cancelled programs and the money being spent on active programs whose product is not ready for prime time.

  6. Mitchell Fuller says:

    Yes, quantity has a quality all it’s own, and we continue to lose depth in our offensive and defensive capabilities, plus those German tanks were complex and required a lot of maintenance and many broke down before even getting to the fight.

    We’ve yet to see our new wonder weapons re F-22 and F-35 perform in high tempo operations, it will be more then academically interesting to see how they perform……….. I think our flag officers plan for defense is too make war too expensive to fight………. Look at the money spent on cancelled programs and the money being spent on active programs whose products are not ready for prime time.

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