The U.S. Army will give 180 of its aging OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters the ability to receive video from nearby drones as part of a broader effort to modernize the helicopters in the wake of the canceled Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program, service officials revealed at the Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington today.
All of this is part of the Army's overall effort to upgrade the aging scout helicopters to the OH-58F standard by equipping them with digital flight controls and cockpit displays along with with nose mounted sensors, improved survivability equipment and new sensors to monitor the aircraft's health using the cash leftover ARH program.
Next month, the service will start to field aircraft that are equipped with technology from L-3 Communications and AEI allowing flight crews to view encrypted and unencrypted data from "30 to 35" different types of UAVs and some manned aircraft, according Maj. Steve Arne of the Army's aviation applied technology directorate. This effort, dubbed the Level 2 Manned-Unmanned Team, kicked off only one year ago in response to an urgent operational need request from the Army for use in Afghanistan, according to Arne.
Meanwhile, aircraft equipped with the full F-model suite are expected to reach service by fiscal year 2015.
"We're working to get the entire [Kiowa Warrior] fleet equipped" with UAV control technology and "hopefully" the service will get a next generation system that allows aircrew to do more than simply receive data from the drones, added Jimmy Downs, the Army's deputy product manager for Kiowa Warrior.
At the same time, the Army is wrapping up its Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) to figure out how it will eventually replace the Kiowa Warriors with a report on the AoA due in the spring, according to Army Lt. Col Courtney Cote, product manager for the Armed Aerial Scout program.
Still, it will likely take at least 10 years to purchase a new helicopter once the service has made up its mind on how to move forward, Lt. Col Robert Grigsby Army program manager for armed scout helo programs said.
All of this comes as the Army is struggling to keep its decades-old fleet of roughly 230 scout helos in the air, which is down by as much as a squadron's worth of aircraft due to attrition, according to Grigsby.