Fed up with schedule delays and soaring costs, the Defense Department late Thursday axed the Army’s Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program that was to provide a replacement for the service’s ageing OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. The Army’s contract with Bell-Textron was valued at more than $6 billion for some 500 new lightly armed scout aircraft. The Army’s Kiowa Warriors have seen heavy use in Iraq and are valued among aviators for their exceptional maneuverability at low altitudes.
In a press release, John Young, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer said, “Rather than continue this program, I have decided that the best course of action is to provide the Army with an opportunity to define a coherent, disciplined Kiowa Warrior helicopter replacement program, and to obtain more rigorous contract terms for its development.”
The ARH was originally projected to cost $8.56 million per aircraft with delivery to begin next year. DoD now estimates the helicopter will cost $14.48 million per copy and the initial delivery date had slipped to 2013.
In the same Pentagon statement, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren stated, “The cost and schedule that were the focus of the decision to award the contract to Bell Helicopter are no longer valid. We have a duty to the Army and the taxpayer to move ahead with an alternative course of action to meet this critical capability for our Soldiers at the best price and as soon as possible.”
In an Army press release, Lt. Gen James Thurman, Army operations director said, "the war-fighting capability for a manned, armed, reconnaissance helicopter is crucial to supporting our ground combat commanders and remains a critical requirement for the Army. To this end, we will rapidly pursue a re-validation of the particular characteristics needed for this capability so that we can restart the process of acquiring a manned, armed reconnaissance helicopter.”
The Army has been upgrading its Kiowa fleet with new avionics and electronic countermeasures.