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Army Gropes for Helo Answers

Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more... First there was Comanche. Then there was ARH. Now there is probably going to be a joint platform capable of handling everything from armed reconnaissance to cargo delivery. But first there will be the Armed Aerial Scout Analysis of Alternatives, due in either April next year or "late spring," depending on whom you ask.

This will look not only at what should replace aging Kiowa Warriors, but, in considering a joint approach, must also balance the trade-offs between a helo that can carry troops and materiel to the battlefield and one that can carry a host of Hellfire missiles and swoop into a high and hot environment at speed, said Ellis Golson, the point man for developing the new requirements. On top of that, the Army is also balancing between capabilities as part of the Army's capabilities portfolio review, being led by Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of staff.

For example, the service will consider tradeoffs between Predators, which can also carry Hellfires, and indirect fire assets such as the Excalibur precision artillery rounds. This will help determine how many ARH helos are bought and what kinds of weapon loads they must carry.

Optionally manned helos may not figure prominently in this mix, although the July 2009 Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Office Study Guidance found that advances in unmanned aircraft systems technology should influence the platforms and numbers sought. Unmanned helos can be designed more easily since they don't require the ability to either be flown remotely or by a pilot. Brig. Gen. Tim Crosby said that the Army would have to digitize flight controls to allow optionally unmanned helos. "We have no resources to do that as of today," Crosby said today at the Association of the US Army conference. Also, Crosby said that "preliminary results" of the AOA "show the need for manned recon."

I asked the Four Horseman of the aviation community, as they are fondly but somewhat anachronistically known, if they believe the Army has a tight handle on the requirements process as it builds them for the next recon helicopter. Brig. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, who leads the Army's aviation community at Fort Rucker, said he is "confident" of the process. Given the Army's record so far he needs to be,

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