By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (May 01, 2012) -- The Army released to industry, April 25, a "request for information" about a replacement for the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior aircraft, including a proposal to industry to provide for the Army a demonstration of the current "state of the art" in rotary-wing aircraft and their subsystems.
It's expected any demonstrations would happen this summer or fall.
Currently, the Army has more than 300 Kiowa Warriors filling the armed aerial scout, or AAS, role. But that airframe entered into service during the 1960s and no longer meets all the needs of commanders. Yet it still remains in high demand.
"The Kiowa Warrior, in its current form, is still the basic airframe of an OH-58A/C that we flew in Vietnam," said Ellis Golsen, director of the Capability Development and Integration Directorate at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence. "We have continued to modify it and address it. But the airframe itself and the environments we fly in now and the ones we look to in the future are going to require greater performance."
Golsen said the Kiowa Warrior, as an AAS, is "our most demanded capability," and added that the Army's AAS has not received the attention other airframes have.
"If you look at the history so far, we have corrected or adjusted or fielded an upgraded system for everything except AAS," he said. "But those are the guys that are continuing to have to fly in a hostile environment, to provide close support to ground Soldiers, and that's the reason we exist, to provide support to the ground Soldiers."
The request for information, known as an RFI, spells out capability shortfalls with the current OH-58D. Those shortfalls include responsiveness in terms of speed, range and endurance; the performance margin to operate in high and hot environments; and aircraft lethality due to limitations on weapons payload capacity.
Officials expect that this summer or fall, they should begin viewing demonstrations of aircraft from industry. And industry participation in the demonstration is totally voluntary, the RFI explains. Aircraft developers who don't participate in the demonstration will have an equal chance to compete to sell the Army a new armed aerial scout, or AAS, if and when the Army decides to buy one.
"This voluntary flight demonstration is really an effort, an extension of the 'analysis of alternatives,' or AOA, to help us verify the data in the AOA and give us a better idea of what we can ask for, and what is achievable within our budget constraints," Golsen said.
There are multiple options for the Army to purchase a new AAS. Included in those are:
-- improving the current Kiowa Warrior to fill its capability gaps
-- creating a new aircraft, a developmental aircraft, from the ground up
-- pursuing a commercial off-the-shelf replacement.
The COTS solution means finding something already being made by industry, and deciding that with acceptable modifications it could fit the Army's needs.
Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, commander of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, said in Afghanistan today, the Kiowa Warrior is showing gaps in what it's able to do.
"The Kiowa Warrior, quite frankly, has challenges in some of the altitudes that we fly in Afghanistan, in reaching those altitudes, and having the appropriate station time that a ground commander needs," he said. "That is one of the biggest gaps. We want to be able to not only reach the target area, but we want to have the loiter time commanders need."
Crutchfield said commanders can make trades with the capabilities of the Kiowa Warrior, such as adjusting the aircraft's weight by taking less fuel or less ammunition. Those kinds of changes can affect altitude, station time and payload. A longer range, with altitude and environment taken into consideration, might mean a tradeoff with fuel and ammunition, for instance. Less fuel can also means less station time, and less ammunition might mean not meeting a ground commander's needs.
"It's trades, it's give and take," Crutchfield said. "What we'd like to see is an aircraft that we don't have to make that choice; that we don't have to give up something. We can give the commander the station time he needs and the payload that he needs. That's what we are really after."
The Army's current AAS, the Kiowa Warrior, is good at "going out and finding things, reporting them, synchronizing the battlefield, calling for indirect fire, and doing all the other things we expect of a scout on the battlefield."
Like AH-64 Apache, the Kiowa Warrior is armed, but unlike the Apache, the Kiowa Warrior is more subtle in its approach, Golsen said.
"When you're doing recon, you don't necessarily want the other guy to know you're looking at him," he said. "Apache is big and heavy, it was designed to go out and no kidding, kill stuff."
The AAS needs to be able to loiter and watch, and to be ready at a moment's notice "to deal with fleeting targets that you don't have time to coordinate for, and you have a small window of opportunity to destroy the target and it's a high pay-off target," Golsen said.