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Tuesday April 4, 2000 :

Army Wants Comanche Helicopters

WASHINGTON, USA ( AP ) - The Army today unveiled a helicopter modernization plan that affirms a commitment to buy 1,213 new-generation Comanche reconnaissance helicopters for $38 billion over the next two decades.

There had been speculation in Congress and within the military that Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, would scale back the Comanche program to pay for a planned overhaul of the rest of the Army.

``The Army is fully committed to the Comanche,'' Brig. Gen. Craig Hackett, director of Army requirements, told a news conference.

The Comanche, now in development and intended to begin entering the fleet in 2006, is designed mainly for reconnaissance but also can fill an attack role. It will replace today's OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters.

Hackett said the Army's helicopter modernization plan includes a commitment to completing the purchase of 1,213 Comanches by 2024.

The plan also calls for accelerating the retirement of the Army's oldest helicopters, the AH-1 Cobras and UH-1 Hueys. All Cobras are to be retired by this October; the Hueys are to be gone by 2004.

The Army also will convert more AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to the D-model ``Longbow'' configuration, which gives it more offensive and defensive capabilities. The Vietnam-era CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters will be modernized and kept in the fleet for another 15 to 20 years, officials said.

Also part of the plan is an accelerated effort to improve the training of Army helicopter pilots. ``Army aviator proficiency and experience levels have taken a dramatic decline over the past 10 years,'' the plan said. Ten years ago, a battalion commander typically had 2,000 hours of flight experience, whereas today it is less than 1,000, and flight experience across the ranks has dropped as well, it said.

Hackett said the Army has not decided how much the overall modernization plan will cost beyond what already is budgeted for aviation. He said that would be worked out over the next several months in conjunction with Shinseki's broader effort to make the entire Army lighter, more mobile and more flexible.

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