Joint multirole helo program in for wild ride

The Army's bid to field a new generation of choppers will be a "roller coaster ride" in the coming years, a general warns.

RIDLEY PARK, PA. — While still alive, the Pentagon’s effort to field a new generation of light, medium and heavy choppers under the Joint Multirole Helicopter effort is in for a “roller coaster” ride as budget planners choose which programs to kill and which ones to fund in the coming years, according to the Army’s top aircraft buyer.

“Everybody’s committed to it, but the dollars needed, that’s gonna be a roller coaster, to be quite honest with you,” said Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, the Army’s top helo buyer, on Wednesday when asked by sister site Defense Tech about the status of JMR.

Crosby went on to say that Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, chief of the Army’s aviation branch, has “painted a vision to go for it” and that “there was just a letter sent in by all of the industry partners on the Joint Vertical Lift task force — all committed to it — so that’s a big step in supporting it, as well. I think everyone sees the need for it and [shares] that passion. The struggle is going to be to keep it funded, let’s just be honest.”

The Joint Multirole Helicopter plans call for development of brand new light, medium, heavy and “ultra”- sized choppers that will be “breakthrough technology” for the U.S. helo industry which has largely been refining 50-to-30-year old designs instead of fielding new birds.

Regardless of what happens to the effort to develop brand new choppers, the Army is going to have to look at replacing the F-model Chinooks with what Crosby thinks will probably be an H-model around 2025. While the service’s aviation modernization accounts fared “pretty well” in upcoming budget plans, the Army will still have to scale back its acquisition ambitions due to shrinking budgets.

The descision we’ll have to make is, do we do an H-model [Chinook] or do we try and find a new airplane? I think the reality will be what we can afford and looking at that to determine with our industry partners what the next step is. My prediction is, and this is simply my opinion, is that the financial status that we’re going to have in our country and our Defense Department is going to force us … to take an appetite suppressor and what that means is that we’re going to have to take some risk in some areas.

In the short term, the service will move forward with plans to buy 155 more CH-47Fs under five year contract that’s set to be awarded in January of 2013, and it will hustle to secure similar multiyear contracts for new Black Hawks and Apache choppers, according to Crosby. The trick here will be ensuring that the multi-years garner enough savings so as to convince budgeteers that they warrant locking away billions of dollars for five year blocks when there will be other important programs in need of scant Pentagon dollars, said the general. Though he did admit that he may have to “accept what they tell me that the budget realities are.”

The Army is also going to figure out how to recapitalize its aging fleet of OH-58 Kiowa Warrior armed scout helos starting sometime in the middle of the decade.

Jean Chamberlin, vice president of Boeing’s mobility division, told reporters here that the company plans to submit a bid for the 155-chopper contract in November. That proposal is expected to offer savings of 10-percent over what it would cost to buy the 155 Chinooks with single-year contracts spread out over five years, according to Chamberlin. Crosby, who was standing next to Chamberlin, chimed in to say with a smile that he’d prefer the deal to gave him 15-percent savings.