The Assault Support Helicopter, What Will It Be In The Future? AUTHOR Major David A. Salzman, USMC CSC 1990 SUBJECT AREA Aviation EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TITLE: THE ASSAULT SUPPORT HELICOPTER, WHAT WILL IT BE IN THE FUTURE? THESIS: The Marine Corps must continue to provide the best aviation troop transport aircraft to support future operations. ISSUE: The extreme mobility gained by using helicopters in tactical operations is a key ingredient in supporting the maneuver warfare doctrine of the Marine Corps. The troop transport helicopter is a versatile weapons system and is also used for resupply, reconnaissance, medical evacuation and search and rescue missions. An assault force embarked in helicopters can bypass terrain obstacles and hostile areas rapidly moving deep behind enemy lines, giving a commander the ability to concentrate combat power at the decisive time and place. The helicopter's use as an assault troop transporter evolved shortly after the Korean War. New technology allowed the helicopter to grow to a size that could carry a squad of Marines. The concept of vertical assault by helicopter was perfected in the Vietnam War. The CH-46 became the workhorse of the Corps in a jungle environment penetrable only by helicopters. The future plans of the Marine Corps were based on replacing the aging CH-46 with the V-22. In the present age of defense budget cuts, the V-22 is proving too costly to replace the CH-46. Proposal options to replace the CH-46 are: a H-60 and CH-53E mix; extend the life of the current fleet of CH-46's; build new CH-46E's with upgrades; and build new CH-46X's with the latest technology. CONCLUSION: The technology and capabilities of the V-22 are too great to shelve and wait. The Marine Corps will get some V-22's and extend the life and upgrade the current fleet of CH-46's to support the future operational needs of the Corps. THE ASSAULT SUPPORT HELICOPTER, WHAT WILL IT BE IN THE FUTURE? THESIS STATEMENT. The Marine Corps must continue to provide the best aviation troop transport to support future operations. I. Mission A. Troop transport B. Internal and external resupply C. Reconnaissance inserts and extracts D. Medical evacuation E. Search and rescue II. Evolution of the troop transport A. Korean War B. Vietnam War C. CH-46 D. V-22 III. CH-46 replacement options A. V-22 B. H-60 and CH-53E mix C. Extend service life of CH-46 D. New production CH-46E E. New production CH-46X IV. Conclusion A. Need to go farther and faster B. V-22 C. CH-46 THE ASSAULT SUPPORT HELICOPTER, WHAT WILL IT BE IN THE FUTURE? The extreme mobility gained by using helicopters in tactical operations is a key ingredient in today's maneuver warfare doctrine of the Marine Corps. It allows Marines to operate in areas well removed from their rear bases for extended periods of time. Helicopters have made the advanced fire base a reality. Helicopters used to insert and extract long range reconnaissance teams provide a highly effective intelligence capability. Using helicopters to regularly resupply troops has reduced the weight troops must carry and their dependence on advanced supply points. Helicopters give the commander the speed and mobility to locate, close with and destroy an enemy over distances previously impossible to cross. Helicopterborne operations consist of movement of troops, supplies and equipment. The helicopter's flexibility and versatility permit a ground commander to reduce time and space limitations normally encountered in the movement of assault forces. An assault force embarked in helicopters can cross terrain obstacles, bypass hostile areas, attack and destroy or seize objectives deep in hostile areas. A commander is able to concentrate the necessary combat power at the decisive time and place. Once the desired result is obtained, he can rapidly redeploy his forces where necessary. The backbone of the helicopterborne assault is the troop transport helicopter. This helicopter must be capable of carrying squad size units. The numbers of troops in these squads varies with the mission and usually consists of from thirteen to twenty-three Marines. Equipment to support these squads ranges from personal weapons to a jeep, which can be loaded internally, to a variety of equipment that can be carried externally. This helicopter must be capable of rapidly resupplying the assault force because of the force's light posture. It must be able to assume the secondary roles of rapid response to medical evacuation and search and rescue. As new missions are conceived and old ones refined, it must be able to support the demands of the ground combat Marines. The Marine Corps must continue to provide the best aviation troop transport aircraft to support future operations. The idea of using helicopters for a vertical assault evolved shortly after the Korean War. During the Korean War, reciprocating engine driven helicopters were small and performed such missions as rescue, reconnaissance, evacuation of casualties and command and liaison flights. Between the Korean War and the beginning of the Vietnam War, helicopters grew in size. During the Vietnam War, the helicopter emerged as the workhorse of the conflict. The availability of the right weapon at the right time is no accident. It results from "thinking in terms of the next war instead of the last. This means starting with ideas, when you have nothing more tangible, and developing them into concepts, procedures and weapons of the future."1 The reciprocating engine driven CH-34 was replaced by the gas turbine driven CH-46 in March of 1966. The CH-46 could carry more troops and cargo and get there faster. In 1968, helicopters carried an average of fifty thousand men and over six thousand tons of cargo a month. There is no doubt about it, the CH-46 saved countless lives in Vietnam. If the casualty could be evacuated to a medical facility in short order, his chances for survival were very good. In 1968, sixty seven thousand people were medically evacuated with the CH-46 providing most of the support. After four years of war, the missions of the CH-46 had been established and tactics for those missions worked out and refined. "The CH-46 continued to perform the bulk of combat and noncombat trooplifts and resupply missions; and they carried out the important and hazardous medical evacuation and reconnaissance team insertion and extraction flights. The CH-46's regularly flew about half of the helicopter sorties flown each month."2 One particular operation, Dewey Canyon, was truly totally dependent upon the helicopter. Lines of communication stretched over fifty kilometers of rugged jungle and canopied mountains, terrain penetrable only by helicopters. The success or failure of the operation hinged on the skill and staying power of the helicopter pilots. The initial fire support bases were secured by CH-46's bringing in more than one thousand five hundred Marines and forty six tons of cargo into two landing zones. During the subsequent nine day period, CH-46's moved in and out of the area on emergency missions carrying troops, ammunition, rations, water and lifting out medical evacuations. Fighting through weather, looking for holes in the overcast to drop into Dewey Canyon, CH-46 pilots managed to move seven hundred eighty seven thousand pounds of material and over one thousand troops. The controversy of how many troops to carry in one helicopter arose during the Vietnam War and still plagues Marines today. The goal of a rapid troop build up in the landing zone by using larger helicopters was weighed against the possible high casualties if one of these helicopters was shot down. This problem was best summed up by Major General Armstrong: "If you have a defended zone, are you better off to put twice as many people in a single helicopter and take advantage of either surprise or your suppressive capabilities, getting in quickly, unload it and get out? Or should you put half as many people in the first one; and because of the lack of the element of surprise and that pertains to not only the fact that you're making the operation but the direction of approach and everything which is given away by the first troop-lift helicopter and do you thereby so affect the vulnerability factors that you greatly decrease the survival (chances) of the second helicopter?"3 This problem of how many troops can you afford to lose in one shot affects Marine Corps policy, strategy and tactics. The use of CH-53 as an assault troop transport helicopter has bothered the Marine Corps for years and still bothers it today. The risk of losing large numbers of troops in peacetime if one crashes outweighs the need to carry so many. It is never acceptable to lose Marines in peacetime, and it is even worse to lose large numbers. If this holds true in peacetime, it will surely carry over to the battlefield. The 1950's technology CH-46 has been out of production since 1971. The safety-reliability-maintainability upgrades done during this overhaul were aimed at safe and efficient operations until the V-22 deliveries could begin in 1992. The upgrades did not extend the aircraft's service life of thirty years and ten thousand hours. Some CH-46's have reached ten thousand hours and increasing numbers of them will peak by 1993. The V-22 was the aircraft designed to bring the Marines ashore from over-the-horizon. With satellites watching our every move, strategic surprise will be difficult to achieve. Over-the-horizon operations will bring the tactical surprise needed to build up the attacking forces ashore faster than a defending force can bring it to bear. The enemy must be convinced a surprise attack could occur anywhere over a large area, thus causing it to keep its forces dispersed, limiting their response time and ability to mass. The Navy and the Marine Corps have invested over two billion dollars in research and development of the V-22. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney cancelled the program in last year's budget saying the cost per unit was unaffordable. Congress restored funding to continue the program's development. Cheney again cancelled the V-22 in the 1991 budget sent to Congress. With the cancellation of the V-22, the Marine Corps must determine the best means for carrying out the assault helicopter mission. One proposal by the Bush administration would replace the V-22 with a mix of CH-53E and H-60 helicopters. The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Gray, dislikes this idea. He feels the CH-53E was designed and built for logistic support and endurance on the battlefield. He said before Congress: "When you talk about using the CH-53E as an assault helicopter, that in my judgment is wrong. Sure you can haul troops with it in a certain environment. We have done it many times. But it's a logistics helicopter. It's not designed to land on ridgelines at serious angles in the assault. And it's got a radar signature that's bigger than Capitol Hill."4 The H-60 carries about half the number of troops as the CH-46. General Gray had this to say about the H-60: "So we're going to have to get twice as many helicopters, and we're not going to get that are we? Nor are we going to get twice as many pilots and twice as many crew chiefs in the kind of environment (budget cut) that we're in today."5 The price tag for the CH-53E and H-60 mix is very close to the price tag for the V-22 depending on who is calculating the figures. The Defense Department did not ask for any money for the V-22 in the current budget. Congress appropriated two hundred fifty five million dollars, telling the Pentagon to study the V-22's costs compared to other aircraft. At this point, it is a battle between the Pentagon and Congress and the CH-46 is still getting older. Another proposal is to extend the service lift of the CH-46 through the year 2020. Survivability, reliability, maintain- ability, and safety are the key ingredients with economics being the limiting factor. Upgrades and improvements must be cost effective and operationally suitable for the CH-46 to perform day and night in all weather conditions on the modern battlefield. In 1978, airframe service life of ten thousand hours was established for all rotary wing aircraft. This service life was a planning figure and was based primarily on material degradation (corrosion and wear) and fatigue which greatly influence long term structural integrity. The ten thousand hour service life of the CH-46 was based on qualitative information for planning purposes only, not on actual fatigue testing. Fatigue testing was not accomplished or planned for to certify the CH-46 past ten thousand hours. Evaluation of CH-46 airframe fatigue analysis, fatigue test results and service experience data indicate the CH-46 airframe can be safety operated beyond ten thousand hours. Flying past the ten thousand hour barrier will be possible, but will demand additional maintenance inspections from squadron through depot level. Some commercial BV-107 airframes have in excess of thirty thousand hours on them. There are numerous vital dynamic components that have a service life of ten thousand hours or less on the CH-46. These components will require replacement, fatigue tests and modifications to provide a longer service. Some key dynamic components to consider are the rotor system, drive system and flight control system. The rotor system consists of the rotor blades and rotor head assemblies. The fiberglass rotor blades introduced in the early 1980's greatly reduced the number of maintenance man hours per flight hour as compared to the old metal rotor blades. The blade shape did not change, consequently aircraft performance stayed the same. These blades are reaching their service life as well as their rotor hubs. Rotor blade aerodynamic technology has made great progress. New rotor blade designs made of composite materials incorporated with a composite bearingless rotor hub will be lighter. They will provide more lift and airspeed with less chance to fail and demanding less man hours to maintain. The transmission, gearbox and drive shafts will reach their service lift and are becoming more expensive to rebuild. Composite materials have been used in the Boeing 360's transmission and gearbox casings. Rotor shafts and inter- connecting shafts are also made of mixed-modules composite construction. Composite parts are stronger and less likely to fail, lower in weight and require less maintenance. The CH-46 flight control system involves an intricate network of push-pull rods and bell cranks coordinated by a computerized automatic fight control system. Push-pull rods and bell cranks can also be constructed of composite materials. Composite materials are providing the extra lifting power (payload) today as did the gas turbine in the 1950's. The use of composite materials reduces weight and manufacturing costs. They allow aerodynamically cleaner structures and remove a large part of the fatigue problem, thus providing a much longer service life. Composite materials use will increase payload capacity up to twenty-five percent over that of current metal technology aircraft. Other modifications and upgrades for the current CH-46 are improved avionics and navigation systems. Another proposal is to start new production of the CH-46E as quickly as possible. These helicopters would incorporate current improvements and have the same configuration in which the last CH-46 was produced. The Marine Corps would need approximately one hundred new aircraft if the attrition rate of the fleet remains the same. The listed configuration for the new CH-46E is listed in Table 1. Another proposal is to produce a new CH-46X that has the configuration listed in Table 2 and upgrade all CH-46E models into the X configuration. The upgrade would include modern equipment developed for other programs, most notably integrated controls and V-22 derived glass cockpit incorporated in the MH-47E and MH-60K special operations forces helicopters. "The CH-46X must be capable of carrying the TOW HMMWV (7900 lb) externally and a crew of three internally for the mission radius of fifty nautical miles."6 A thorough remanufacturing program would give the CH-46X a service lift lasting well into the 2020's. This would give the Marine Corps a fleet of CH-46X's about the same size as its current fleet of CH-46E's. Aircraft numbers could be reduced if force levels are reduced. TABLE 1 NEW PRODUCTION CH-46E CONFIGURATION CURRENT CH-46E SERVICE LIFE EXTENSION PROGRAM UPGRADE DYNAMIC COMPONENT UPGRADE BLOCK UPGRADE ESTENDED RANGE STUB WINGS DOPPLER NABIGATION/GPS COCKPIT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM HELO EMERGENCY FLOTATION SYSTEM NVG COCKPIT/CABIN IR FORMATION LIGHTS IR EXTERIOR LIGHTING IR SEARCH/LANDING LIGHTS IMPROOVED WHEEL ASSEMBLY PLRS FUEL VENT VALVE IMPROVEMENT SECURE VOICE SECOND ARC-182 RADIO HF RADIO (SECURE) FATIGUE VIBRATION MONITOR ELT VOR/ILS LASER WARNING RECEIVER CRASHWORTHY TROOP SEATS FASTROPE HARDWARE UPGRADED HEELS NVG HUD LIGHTWEIGHT PILOTS SEATS STANDARD COMPASS TABLE 2 NEW PRODUCTION CH-46X CONFIGURATION NEW PRODUCTION CH-46E COMMUNICATION ASE HAVEQUICK/SINGARS ZERO DRAG EEDS UPGRADE SATCOMM WIRE DETECTION/WARNING LIGHT WEIGHT ARMOR FLY-BY-WIRE CONTROLS NAVIGATION PERFORMANCE MULTI-MODE RECEIVER NAVIGATION FLIR ENGINE UPGRADE HELMET DISPLAY ROTOR SYSTEM UPGRADE DIGITAL MAP REFERENCE SYSTEM 21 INCH CORD ROTOR BLADE GLASS COCKPIT MANAGEMENT MISSION PLANNING SYSTEM MFD'S INTERFACE WITH TAMPS CDU'S STANDBY INSTRUMENT PANEL AIRFRAME DUAL, 1553 DATA BUSS ONE EXTERNAL STORES RACK DUAL POINT HOOK SYSTEM Of all the options, the Marine Corps hopes the V-22 will survive with Congressional support. Bickering between the Congress, Pentagon and Secretary of Defense is only delaying a solution to the aging fleet and dwindling part supplies of the CH-46. The service life of the CH-46 can be extended and its survivability and range improved. "We need to go farther and we need to go faster if we are going to survive."7 We need all weather over-the-horizon capability for the amphibious assault ship-to-shore mission, greatly increasing mission success of the aircraft and its crew. As General Gray stated: "Fundamentally, you're at the upper edge of the helicopter technology envelope. Therefore, if you want to make a significant leap (in capability), you're going to have to go a different way." Enduring the huge defense budget cuts and political bickering, the Marine Corps may have to tailor its request for new technology. There are many solutions to the aging CH-46 problem: a mixed bag of different aircraft; extending the life of the old CH-46; building new CH-46's; and even getting some, if not all, of the CH-46's replaced by the V-22. The Marine Corps will probably get some V-22's to support the over-the-horizon concept and the CH-46 will be upgraded and continue to act as the workhorse of the Corps. ENDNOTES 1 Major General Keith B. McCutcheon, USMC, "Getting There, Any Way, Any Time," Armed Forces Journal, (July 26, 1969), p. 21. 2 Graham A. Cosmas and Lieutenant Colonel Terrence P. Murray, USMC, U. S. Marines In Vietnam, Vietnamization and Redeployment 1970-1971, (History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C., 1986), p. 292. 3 Cosmas and Murray, p. 294. 4 Elizabeth Donovan and David Steigman, "Gray: V-22 Substitute Scheme `Ridiculous,'" Navy Times, (March 5, 1990), p. 4. 5 Donovan and Steigman, p. 4. 6 Colonel J. P. Cress, USMC, Director, Naval Air Systems Command Detachment, Cherry Point, North Carolina, letter to Boeing Helicopters about USMC CH-46 Restart Program, January 4, 1990. 7 Robert Holzer, "Replace Cancelled V-22," Defense News, February 26, 1990), p. 3. 8 Donovan and Steigman, p. 4. BIBLIOGRAPHY Bond, David F., "CH-46 Replacement May be CH-46X; Marines Believe UH-60 Is Too Small," Aviation Week and Space Technology, (February 19, 1980), p. 18. Boyne, Walter J. and Lopez, Donald S., The Age of the Helicopter. Vertical Flight, (Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington, D.C.), 1984, pp. 221-245. Cosmas, Graham A. and Murray, Terrance P., LtCol, USMC, U. S. Marines In Vietnam, Vietnamization and Redeployment 1970- 1971, (History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, Washington, D. C.), 1986, pp. 288-295. Cress, J. P., Col, USMC, Director, Naval Air Systems Command Detachment, Cherry Point, North Carolina, letter to Boeing Helicopters about USMC CH-46 Restart Program, January 4, 1990. Donovan, Elizabeth and Steigman, David, "Gray: V-22 Substitute Scheme `Ridiculous,'" Navy Times, (March 5, 1990), p. 4. Holzer, Robert, "Replace Cancelled V-22," Defense News, (February 26, 1990), p. 3, 49. Linn, Thomas C., Maj, USMC, "Over-the-Horizon Assault: The Future of the Corps," Marine Corps Gazette, (December 1987), pp. 44-47. McCutcheon, Keith B., MGen, USMC, "Getting There, Any Way, Any Time," Armed Forces Journal, (July 26, 1969), pp. 21-24. Prina, L. Edgar, "Marine Aviation Tilts Ahead," Sea Power, (November 1987), pp. 27-32. Assault Support Helicopter Tactical Manual, NWP 55-9-ASH, Volume 1, NAVAIR 01-1ASH-1T, 1985. NATOPS Flight Manual, Navy Model CH-46E Helicopters, NAVAIR 01-250HDC-1, 1980.
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