(Full story temporarily available)
Black Hawk ‘A2L’ plan still not final
The Air Force has dusted off industry proposals from the Common Vertical Lift Support Platform program that was terminated in 2013 as it explores options to replace the UH-1N Huey instead of automatically going with the recommended plan to use restored Army UH-60 Black Hawks.
Industry sources have suggested the Black Hawk plan might not be a done deal, even though the strategy was approved by the service’s vice chief of staff last year.
This week Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick confirmed the service is considering “all commercial off-the-shelf and government off-the-shelf, non-developmental, vertical lift aircraft” as possible Huey replacements.
“The Air Force is currently examining the previous Common Vertical Lift Support Platform (CVLSP) analysis of alternatives for applicability to the UH-1N way ahead,” Gulick told Inside the Air Force March 26. “This analysis is expected to be completed in July 2015, and the results will fold into a subsequent assessment and development of a UH-1N replacement acquisition strategy in FY-16.”
Air Force Global Strike Command is the lead operator of the UN-1N and uses the 1960s helicopters to guard its Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.
But according to Global Strike Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, the small, twin-engine Huey “doesn’t meet any of our requirements” for speed, range or payload. “It’s not capable of doing the mission,” Wilson said at an Air Force Association conference in Washington last September.
The Air Force has wanted to replace the Huey since 2006 after it was rated “not effective.”
CVLSP was the latest attempt to replace the helicopter with a single variant but additional capability requirements drove “an approximate seven-fold increase in estimated life-cycle cost” of operating the replacement options over the Huey, according to a September 2014 letter to Congress signed by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.
Interested vendors included Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky, AgustaWestland, Airbus and Bell Helicopter-Textron. Two known proposals included Airbus’s UH-72 Lakota and AgustaWestland’s AW139M.
Last year, the Air Force Requirements Oversight Council recommended replacing the UH-1N with upgraded Army UH-60 Black Hawks. The upgrade would “reset” A-model Black Hawks and upgrade them to the L model at a estimated cost of $10 million per aircraft.
The total cost of replacing 62 Hueys with Black Hawks is pegged at $980 million for 72 airframes — 65 primary aircraft and seven reserves. Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer affirmed the strategy last July and a UH-1N replacement program is included in the service’s FY-16 budget request.
Although the UH-60 is not specifically mentioned in the budget documents, the requested amounts equal the estimated cost of the UH-60 plan — $980 million. That amount is programmed across the service’s futures years defense program, starting with a $2.4 million request in the procurement account for FY-16. Initial deliveries would start in September 2017 and continue into the early 2020s, according to the budget proposal.
“The UH-60A2L is significantly less expensive than a new aircraft with similar capability,” the service secretary’s letter to the congressional defense committees states.
Five Air Force major commands operate the UH-1N Iroquois, better known as the “Twin Huey.” Global Strike employs 25 of the helicopters at three missile bases for ICBM convoy support and emergency response. Air Force District of Washington flies 20 Hueys from Joint Base Andrews, MD, for VIP-transport and to evacuate top government officials from Washington in the case of an attack on the capital.
According to James’ letter and a 2011 industry day slide presentation, the service requires a vertical-lift aircraft with an endurance of three to four hours and a range of 225-515 nautical miles unrefueled. It must carry up to 3,194 pounds including nine troops plus gear.
RAND Corp. was put on contract to produce two studies on the most effective way to replace the UH-1N. Those studies were due in December, and an initial report in 2014 pointed to the UH-60A2L Black Hawk plan as the most practical way forward. — James Drew