This article first appeared in Aviation Week's Aerospace Daily and Defense Report.
U.S. Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) is again pushing for a program to replace its aging UH-1N helicopters, saying that its current aircraft are too slow to handle the modern nuclear weapons support mission.
AFSPC vice chief Maj. Gen. Thomas Deppe says that the command has included a funding request in its fiscal 2010 draft budget to begin a program to replace the aging Hueys. "Any helicopter in the inventory is faster than that UH-1," he said during a breakfast speech May 28 hosted by the National Defense University Foundation. A new helicopter would need to have greater range, improved speed and armor protection, Deppe added.
The helicopters are used to escort nuclear weapons teams servicing the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile fleet. They also are used to quickly transport security teams in the event of an alert at the missile fields. Todays Huey lacks the range to traverse the largest of the missile fields in one mission.
"An 80-85 percent solution may be good enough," Deppe said, acknowledging that attempts to buy a Huey replacement in the past have failed to produce a viable program. "We could buy something off the shelf that could easily" handle the mission, he said.
Most recently, the Air Force discussed the concept of a Common Vertical Lift Support Program, which would provide a common helicopter to replace those used by AFSPC as well as the aging executive transports operating out of Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
However, helicopter procurements for USAF appear to be paced by the Combat Search and Rescue-X (CSAR-X) quagmire. The Air Force is examining responses from CSAR-X bidders with an award possible this fall.