ARH Delays Present Opportunity
Ongoing delays with helicopters meant to replace older Kiowa
Warriors in the US Army fleet have spurred officials with the
service, and Boeing, to ask Congress for more money to buy
modernized Apache Longbow helicopters.
According to TheHill.com, the Army National Guard operates four
AH-64A battalions, comprised of 92 helicopters. Army procurement
officials have held off modernizing those aircraft, to free up
money to purchase new Bell Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters
The ARH is not meant to replace the Apache, which is primarily a
ground-attack aircraft. But the ripple effect from the ARH delay
filters down throughout the Army helicopter fleet... and
the delay may present an opportunity for Army officials to
upgrade more of the battle-proven Apaches.
As ANN reported, the Army
said in December it now wants only 250 ARHs, based on Bell's
commercial Model 407 (shown at center). The original plan called
for 348 ARHs to be purchased at about $10.3 million apiece; current
pricetags run closer to $12.3 million.
Combined with what Army officials expect will be another
two-year delay in receiving those ARHs, officials say Army National
Guard units in Texas, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Idaho may be
flying their original AH-64As for at least another nine years. That
might not be so bad stateside... but those units are expected to
deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan in the future.
"I can't send them with that [aircraft]," Brigadier General
Stephen Mundt told The Hill.
Under an Army contract, Boeing has converted most AH-64As into
far more capable D-model Apaches, known as Longbows. The AH-64Ds
can shoot farther, and fly faster and over greater distances than
older models. Longbows also have upgraded avionics, and more
protection for their two-man crews.
Faced with the choice of whether to freshen up leftover A-models
at about $8 million apiece, or convert them into D-model Longbows
for $11 million, Mundt is clear about which option he prefers.
"There is a huge [difference] in capability between those two," he
said, echoing the sentiments of most Army and National Guard
Boeing would like to modernize the helicopters, too. The
American defense contractor has started lobbying lawmakers, seeking
about $350 million in additional funding to the FY2009 defense
budget to equip one battalion with upgraded Longbows. The company
hopes more work for its Longbow line would stave off a downturn in
its employment ranks, and would give Boeing additional time to
develop another Apache upgrade program.
Adding clout to that lobbying effort are the potential benefits
to another contractor, Lockheed Martin, which builds night-vision
and targeting systems for Longbows.