WEAPONRY AND EQUIPMENT: Kiowa Warrior Upgrade [UPDATE]

June 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm Leave a comment

Rescue to the Cavalry

Updated June 10 with additional quotes and background material (in bold italics) and photos of upgraded aircraft.

The busiest close air support helicopter in the U.S. Army is the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. Because it is the Army’s primary ground support and scout helicopter, it has the highest operational tempo in Afghanistan – averaging 100 hours per aircraft.

OH-58D Kiowa Warriors (Photo courtesy Bell Helicopter)

Kiowa Warriors have logged more than 800,000 combat hours in Iraq and Afghanistan battling sand, snow and high altitudes as well as enemy fire.

Army officials say they will be relying on the OH-58D as the primary air cavalry helicopter until at least 2025. But more than 40 have been lost in Afghanistan and Iraq and the manufacturer, Bell Helicopters, ended production in 1999.

The shortage is a problem not only for commanders but for the maintainers who have to keep the OH-58Ds flying. When the 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry returned to Fort Riley, Kansas from overseas last year, Lt. Col. Paul Cravey, the squadron commander said he had only nine available helicopters and three weeks to train and test 39 air crew members in air gunnery. Keeping those nine aircraft operational ’round the clock for more than a month  put a real strain on his maintenance crews. Now he has 19 helos, but under ideal conditions, the squadron’s full complement would be 30 aircraft, Cravey said today (June 7).

He was one of the speakers at an Army-Media roundtable to discuss a program to upgrade the armed reconnaissance and light attack helicopter. Earlier in the day the first upgraded Kiowa Warrior was rolled out at Corpus Christi Army Depot in Texas.

Under the Wartime Replacement Aircraft Program, three Army units (the Corpus Christi depot, the Armed Scout Helicopter Project Office and the Aviation Field Maintenance Directorate) are working with Bell Helicopters to fill the gap from losses in the Kiowa Warrior fleet by taking older “A” model Kiowa Warrior cabins and upgrading them to “D” model cabins and capabilities.

The cockpit of the first upgraded OH-58D. (U.S. Army photo by Sofia Bledsoe)

Lt. Col. Matthew Hannah, the Army’s Kiowa Warrior product manager, said it costs approximately $10 million to convert a Model A into a Model D. Approximately half of the aircraft ” is still a 40-year-old airframe,” he said, adding that the process is expected to take 12-to-18 months. Final funding to refurbish 49 Kiowa Warriors, subject to congressional approval, is expected to come in the Army’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2014.

The first one was completed seven weeks ahead of schedule, officials said. “I believe this is really the path forward in how we lower the cost of Army aviation [and] at the same time we take care of the taxpayer — but primarily the soldier,” said Col. Christopher Carlile, commander of the Corpus Christi depot.

The OH-58D is a single engine, four bladed helicopter with a crew of two. It is equipped with advanced navigation, communication, weapons and cockpit integration systems. The ball-shaped mast-mounted sight houses a thermal imaging system, low-light television, a laser range finder/designator as well as an optical boresight system for rapid sensor alignment.

With these systems, the Kiowa Warrior can operate day or night and acquire targets and fire its Hellfire and Stinger missiles from their maximum range — even in adverse weather conditions — exposing the crew to minimum risk. The Kiowa Warrior can also transmit battlefield imagery to commanders on the ground for near real-time situational awareness.

“This aircraft is very important to our BCT — brigade combat team — commanders and our soldiers on the ground,” Cravey said. “Without exception, it is their aircraft of choice any time they get tied up or they need security when they’re in a fight. That’s why we exist, to provide that security for them.”

The first upgraded OH-58D Kiowa Warrior at the Corpus Christi Army Depot. (U.S. Army photo by Sofia Bledsoe)

To see a Defense Dept. video of an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior (not the one above) firing its machine gun and rockets in flight, click here.

 

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Entry filed under: Afghanistan, Iraq, National Security and Defense, Technology, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , .

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