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Monday February 23, 2004 :

US Army requests Comanche termination

WASHINGTON, USA ( US Army News Service ) - The Army plans to cancel further research, development and planned purchases of the RAH-66 Comanche stealth helicopter

Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker told the Pentagon press corps late Feb. 23 the Army’s Comanche termination recommendation to Congress is about getting the most bang for the buck for Army aviation.

“We have examined closely our resourcing plans for aviation and concluded that some of the capabilities those funds would provide are longer consistent with the changed operating environment,” Brownlee said.

From a purely business standpoint, it makes a lot more sense to upgrade the capabilities of the current Army aircraft fleet to meet the demands of the contemporary operating environment with the $14 billion currently slated for the Comanche program versus getting the 121 Comanche helicopters designed for a different environment and a different enemy than the ones the Army faces today, Schoomaker said.

That $14 billion represents about 40 percent of the planned Army aviation budget through fiscal year 2011.

The decision to cancel the Comanche program stems from one of Schoomaker’s early directives to take a close look at Army aviation to determine how can it should transform to best meet today’s and tomorrow’s challenges on the battlefield. The six-month study that ensued recently concluded.

Standardizing what comprises an aviation brigade was one of the study’s recommendations.

There are currently seven different types of aviation brigades in the Army today. That standardization includes the Army Reserve and National Guard. The reserve component has dozens of 1970s airframes like the UH-1 utility and AH-1 attack helicopters that had been phased out of the active Army more than a decade ago.

Given how reserve-component units have been tasked to support Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom in the past two years, they should be “plug-and-play” with their active-Army counterparts -- but they are mostly not due in large part to equipment differences, said Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau.

The 3rd Infantry Division’s aviation brigade, recently back from Iraq, will be the first brigade to reset under the standardization plan. The future Army aviation brigades will have two battalions of 24 Apache attack helicopters each; a battalion of 30 Black Hawk helicopters; a utility battalion with eight light utility, 12 Chinook heavy utility and 12 Black Hawk helicopters and a number of unmanned aerial vehicles – for reconnisance and possibly combat; and a maintenance battalion.

The Army plans to divert part of the terminated Comanche funds to buy more Black Hawk and Apache helicopters for the Army Reserve and National Guard.

The study also recommend that the Army replace the OH-58D reconnaissance helicopter with something more current as well as replacing its aged cargo aircraft and creating another light utility helicopter. The Army is setting up programs to determine what the new requirements are and part of the diverted Comanche funds will be used to buy those aircraft, Lt. Gen. Richard Cody, deputy chief of staff, G-3.

The study and recent lessons learned identified aircraft survivability as a major issue that needs to be address. Again money diverted from the Comanche program could upgrade a significant portion of the Army aircraft fleet with the latest flare and chaff defense systems.

In total, the Army plans to buy approximately 800 more aircraft and upgrade another 400 beyond what current funding allows with diverted Comanche funds

Not all of the approximately $6.3 billion invested in the 20-year-old Comanche program will be a loss. Technologies learned during the development of the helicopter will be added to the Army's technology base for use in future aviation programs, perhaps the Joint Multi-Purpose Helicoper or Joint Cargo Aircraft, Brownlee said.

“If you told me six months ago that I would be standing here saying the Army no longer needs the Comanche helicopter, I won’t have believed you,” said Lt. Gen. Richard Cody, deputy chief of staff, G-3. “It is the most flexible, most agile aircraft this country has ever produced with leap ahead technology. The makers of the Comanche should be justifiably proud of what they have accomplished.”

However, Cody said he has determined that the Comanche is a niche-capability aircraft whose funding should be better spent upgrading the current fleet.

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