ORLANDO -- Just a few years after the Air Force had plans to replace its venerable UH-1N Huey helicopters, the service may actually grow its Huey fleet in the coming years.
Air Force Global Strike Command chief, Gen. James Kowalski confirmed that the air service is currently refurbishing three UH-INs that it got from the Marine Corps to replace three Air Force Hueys that have been lost over the years. If the aircraft are in decent shape, and it doesn't cost too much to get them ready for Air Force service, the blue suiters will look into buying more used Hueys.
"The intent is to run these through the depot, bring them up to a standard with the rest of our UH-1Ns" and send them to the field, said Kowalski during a Feb. 24 press conference at an Air Force Association-sponsored conference here.
"We're watching them as they go through depot to see what kind of shape they're in. Right now, it looks like they're in really good shape based on the last report I got a couple of weeks ago. Which then gives us the opportunity, as we go through our budget process and see where we have some wiggle room and what our priorities are, it gives us the opportunity to examine where there are other UH-1s out there that we can fund to bring into our fleet and allow us to [grow]."
He cautioned that the Air Force will have to look at how much it will cost in terms of aircrew and maintenance needs to expand the service's Huey fleet before deciding whether to procure more Heuys and in what quantities.
Air Force Global Strike Command is the service's largest operator of Hueys, using the 1970s-vintage UH-1Ns to ferry security forces around the command's vast Minuteman III ICBM fields. Keep in mind that the Air Force was hoping to replace the Hueys in this role with a brand new chopper, saying the UH-1N can't carry enough security troops and doesn't have the range to fly across entire missile fields without refueling.
However, in light of $487 billion in Pentagon budget cuts, the command may have to make do with the Hueys for a while longer, said Kowalski. ONe ways the additional Hueys could be used is to sit 24-hour a day alert at missile bases, with three Hueys ready to ferry a tactical response team to the scene of any security breach at a missile site.
"If we want to get to a [nuclear missile base security] force that has 24/7 alert capability, we're gonna need more helicopters," said Kowalski during a Feb. 24 press conference at an Air Force Association-sponsored press conference here. The Air Force has run a trial missile base alert program with one Huey at each missile base, said the three-star. However, the Heuy's limited payload abiliy prevents it from carrying an entire tactical response team to an emergency.
The Air Force also uses the UH-1N to ferry VIPS around Washington DC and to fly basic utility along with search and rescue missions at a handful of sites around the globe.
When asked about the effort to replace the Hueys with a new chopper, Kowalski said the need for a new helo is still there but that it may take some time for the service to find the cash for a new fleet given the current budget crunch.