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Army Moving Toward More Joint And Capable Aircraft

US Air Force 25th Fighter Squadron.
by Donna Miles
Washington DC (SPX) Aug 08, 2006
July 19, 2006 - The idea of the services operating jointly with fewer aircraft platforms that share common features is the key to the modernization effort taking place throughout the military aviation community, the Army Aviation director said here yesterday.

Army Brig. Gen. Stephen D. Mundt called the trend toward jointness a key driver in aviation modernization programs. "It's critical we work together. It's a joint world," he said. "There is no way that this nation can afford for everybody to have their own specific capabilities and be redundant across the board."

But Mundt told Pentagon reporters he's concerned by budget cuts being eyed by Congress that threaten to set back the first major step toward that goal. These cuts could delay by as long as two years production of the Joint Cargo Aircraft and ultimately, drive up the price, he said.

They could also affect another major Army aviation program: the Armored Reconnaissance Helicopter, he said.

"It's like a self-licking ice cream cone. I don't know a better way to describe it," he said. "If you take money out of the program, you have to increase the schedule, because you can't buy everything you want within the same timeframe. If you increase the schedule, you increase the cost, ... because if you don't buy it today, it doesn't get cheaper tomorrow. The cost goes up."

Initially, the RAH-66 Comanche helicopter was the centerpiece of the Army's modernization effort, but that project got scrapped in February 2004. Funds from the Comanche program got channeled into other aviation projects, including the Joint Cargo Aircraft.

The JCA, being developed jointly by the Army and Air Force, will replace multiple other fixed-wing platforms - the Army C-23 Sherpa, C-26 Metroliner and C-12 Huron, and for some smaller missions, the Air Force C-130 Hercules. The request for proposals for the new aircraft is currently on the streets, Mundt said, and the Army hopes to begin adding the first JCAs to its fleet in fiscal 2007.

Mundt said a memorandum of agreement signed last month by the two services to pave the way ahead for the aircraft's development defies all who said it would never happen. "Against everybody who said the Army and Air Force will never sign an MOA to go to the same aircraft, we did it," he said. "It is a different world today. ... It is much easier for us to talk from a joint environment, joint concept, so that's exactly what ... Joint Cargo Aircraft does."

Capable of landing and taking off on a very short runway, the JCA will be critical to providing supplies to forward-deployed troops, Mundt said. With JCA, the Army could fly into 29 additional airfields in Iraq and another 10 airfields in Afghanistan.

"Which means soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines would not be on the roads driving," Mundt said. "We would not be flying the wings off the CH-47s that we're already under-resourced on."

The JCA will absorb much of the stress being placed on the Army's CH-47 helicopter fleet, which has amassed almost 1.2 million flight hours since October 2001.

"That's a lot of hours, four to five times the number of hours we normally would accrue on any one of these platforms," Mundt "CH-47s have been serving us forever (and are an) exceptional platform. But we are literally flying the wings off of them."

The JCA offers another benefit over the Sherpa; it can fly above 10,000 feet without supplemental oxygen, so it's able to be used for medical evacuation. The Army currently pays contractors to perform this service in Afghanistan.

Another major modernization program, the Armored Reconnaissance Helicopter, will replace the aging and overtaxed OH-58D Kiowa Warrior fleet, Mundt said. Each OH-58D currently flies about 70 hours a month, vs. the 14 hours a month it was designed for, he said.

"The Armored Reconnaissance Helicopter is a much more powerful, much more capable (aircraft) with better sensors (and) platform for what we are trying to do," he said. It features a larger, enhanced engine, upgraded tail rotor and improved glass cockpit.

The Army awarded a contract to Bell Helicopter Textron Inc., for delivery of 38 of the new ARH aircraft by fiscal 2008, with an additional 300 to de delivered by fiscal 2013.

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