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Army demos new OH-58F Kiowa Warrior Helicopter as fate of AAS remains shrouded


This week saw the Army demonstrate at Redstone Arsenal its new OH-58F Kiowa Warrior (KW) helicopter, the first designation change in the model in almost 25 years.

In a first for Army aviation, the Service itself served as systems integrator for the OH-58F, also known as the Cockpit and Sensor Upgrade Program (CASUP), working with the OEM Bell Helicopter to integrate modern cockpit display and sensor technology into the venerable OH-58.

The Army notes that the F-model Kiowa Warrior capitalizes on non-developmental items and systems fielded on other aviation platforms to rapidly install, modify, or provide the following: advanced nose mounted sensor, improved cockpit control hardware and software for enhanced situational awareness, three full color multi-function displays, a dual-redundant digital engine controller for enhanced engine safety, digital inter-cockpit communications, digital HELLFIRE future upgrades, Aircraft Survivability Equipment (ASE) upgrades, and a redesigned aircraft wiring harness.

While officlals concede that the F-model program has experienced recent unit cost growth owing to funding reductions and schedule slips, that note that Army stewardship of the program will save the taxpayer some $600 million the program’s 20+ year span, while serving to bring the first F-models to flight in a matter of months and into service within a matter of years.  According to OH-58F Product Manager Lt. Col. Matthew Hannah: “In early 2012, this aircraft was merely 500+ PowerPoint charts in engineering briefs. Watching the design evolve through the production build-up and to first flight has been incredible.”

The F-model’s payoff over the OH-58D that it will ultimately replace, according to the Army, stems from its lighter weight and the relocation of its primary sensor from the helicopter’s mast to its nose. 

  •  An airframe weight reduction of 160 pounds – although a mere three percent – is said to provide commanders a meaningful increase capability in F-model endurance, firepower, and/or payload.  To be more specific, Colonel John Lynch, capability manager at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), advises that an F-model Kiowa Warrior could double its weapon load or fly for 30 minutes more than a D-model; 
  • Moving the sensor from atop the OH-58’s mast to the aircraft nose and the use of the Raytheon AAS-53 Common Sensor Payload significantly enhances the airframe’s ability “to detect, mark and engage targets from greater standoff ranges, thus protecting the crew and aircraft while performing the mission of supporting ground troops.” 

The Army’s Prototype Integration Facility has completed two OH-58F models and a test vehicle and program officials plan for production to move to the Army’s Corpus Christi Army Depot (CCAD) this Fall.

As to the program schedule and metrics moving forward, the OH-58F CASUP program's Limited User Test (LUT) will be held in March 2014 and a “Milestone C” (Low Rate Initial Production) program review will be held in March 2015, culminating in a first unit equipped (FUE) by late 2016.  Full rate production is slated for 2017 and is to run through 2025 with a total acquisition objective of 368 units.

Army officials are quick to note that while the CASUP improvements will enhance Kiowa Warrior performance and increase operator safety, the OH-58F capability gains will not approach the high-hot (6K-95F) goals postulated for the notional Armed Aerial Scout (AAS). 

Further, despite the replacement of some 60% of the airframe via the CASUP mods, program officials made clear that the OH-58F program does not buy more lifespan for the aging Kiowa Warrior inventory.  While program and industry officials wait for a senior level Army/OSD decision on a AAS program launch, OH-58F program officials underscore that the Army will need either to put the Kiowa Warrior fleet through a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) or begin to field a replacement Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) by 2025.