From LHX to Comanche

The LHX program experienced several years of increasing cost estimates, and, in early 1988, DOD determined that the program was no longer affordable as structured. Consequently, in June 1988 the Army reduced the number of LHXs by half [to 2,096] by deleting the utility version of the LHX. The June 1988 cost and quantity reductions reflected changes the Army made to respond to the Defense Acquisition Board's conclusion that the LHX was "no longer a viable program for affordability reasons." The The Army also redesigned the LHX to try to meet the stringent flyaway cost goal of $7.5 million (in constant fiscal year 1988 dollars) per helicopter set by DOD. Until the major restructuring in 1988, the LHX program's estimated costs had increased steadily over the years, reaching a peak of $79.7 billion (escalated dollars) in November 1987.

The LHX was intended to be a lightweight helicopter capable of performing multiple missions against advanced enemy air defenses of the 1990s. The Army saw the LHX as the mainstay of its aviation fleet into the next century. It intended the LHX to perform both scout and attack helicopter functions, including (1) performing battlefield reconnaissance, (2) finding and attacking armored targets, (3) striking deep against enemy positions, and (4) engaging enemy helicopters in air combat. These capabilities, together with the goal of light weight, made the LHX a very advanced aircraft - on a par with the Air Force's Advanced Tactical Fighter.

In 1988, the Army doubled the total number of Black Hawks to be produced - from 1,111 to 2,253 helicopters. About 500 of the additional Black Hawks were added to make up for the deletion of the LHX utility version. According to the Army, another 1,100 utility helicopters will be needed to fully compensate for the cancellation of the LHX utility.

The Army made a considerable number of changes to the LHX acquisition strategy to reduce development costs. The new strategy called for a shortened demonstration/validation phase that eliminates building and evaluating competitive prototypes before the Army selected a winning contractor team and began full-scale development.

The June 1988 Acquisition Decision Memorandum authorizing the Army to proceed into the demonstration/validation phase directed that industry make performance, weight, and cost trade-offs to achieve a unit flyaway cost goal of $7.5 million. The Army also added a 7,500~pound (empty weight) goal subject to the same kind of trade-offs. The Army worked together with the contractor teams to make performance trade-offs and by early 1989 estimated the LHX to weigh approximately 8,000 pounds, with an estimated unit flyaway cost of $8.2 million (constant fiscal year 1988 dollars).

The LHX airframe and its mission equipment changed radically from late 1987 to early 1989 due to efforts to meet both the 7,500- pound weight goal and the $7.5 million unit flyaway cost goal. As recently as November 1987, when the Army estimated the LHX unit flyaway cost at $9.7 million (constant fiscal year 1988 dollars), the aircraft's empty weight was estimated at 9,800 pounds, which required a 30-percent more powerful engine, a 46-foot rotor blade, and over 1,500 pounds of mission equipment. For the early 1989 LHX version estimated at an $8.2 million unit flyaway cost, the Army projected empty weight at 8,000 pounds. It projected that with additional trade-offs to meet cost and weight goals, the LHX will consist of the original T800 engine, a 40-foot rotor blade, and 1,290 pounds of mission equipment.

In June 1988 the Department of Defense issued a "Request for Proposals", and two teams presented designs to the Army for evaluation -- the Boeing-Sikorsky LH First Team and the Bell-McDonnell Douglas LH Super Team. In late 1988, the Army awarded competitive demonstration/validation contracts to two teams - (1) Boeing Helicopters Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Sikorsky Aircraft Company, Stratford, Connecticut, and (2) Bell Helicopter Textron Company, Fort Worth, Texas, and McDonnell Helicopter Company, Mesa, Arizona-for the design of the aircraft. The purpose of this development phase was to establish design parameters and demonstrate the capabilities of certain components.

By 1988, the Boeing-Sikorsky team had arrived at a basic solution: an all-composite, tandem seat, stealthy helicopter with a shrouded counter-torque rotor in a T-tail. Though the Bell-McDonnell Douglas LH Super Team combat helicopter was never built, the design was to have featured Bell's 680 all-composite four-bladed rotor system and McDonnell Douglas Helicopter System's NOTAR (No Tail Rotor). The LH Super Team was to have had an all-composite fuselage, retractable landing gear, fly-by-wire flight controls, and state-of-the-art crew stations.

Following the Major Aircraft Review, the Secretary of Defense in August August 1990 directed that the Comanche acquisition schedule be revised to extend 1990 the development phase 2 years, integrate prototype testing prior to full-scale development, and plan for a minimum procurement of 1,292 aircraft. This schedule included a total of six prototype aircraft, with the first flight scheduled for August 1994. The stretch-out of the development was partially due to the reduction in the Warsaw Pact threat, which meant that DOD did not have to rush a weapon system to production in order to meet an urgent fielding deadline.

The estimated total program cost for the Comanche has declined in escalated dollars from $60.6 billion in 1985 to $35.4 billion in 1991, but the aircraft's estimated unit cost has increased from $12.1 million to $27.4 million. In 1988, the estimated program cost totaled $40 billion, and the unit cost was $19.1 million.

The Comanche's unit cost increased primarily because the planned Cost Growth acquisition quantity has been reduced. A lowered acquisition quantity increases a weapon system's unit cost by spreading program costs across fewer units. The Army had planned to purchase 5,023 aircraft in 1985, but the number was reduced to 1,292 aircraft by 1990 [with the possibility of a further 389]. The Secretary of Defense, in reducing the planned acquisition quantity to its current level in August 1990, based his decision on (1) the decline in the Warsaw Pact threat, (2) concerns about the weapon system's affordability, and (3) approved U.S. military force reductions.

In January 1991 the Army selected the Boeing-Sikorsky LH First Team, redesignated the RAH-66 Comanche, to build the first two prototype LH helicopters to be delivered in 1995 and 1998. The Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche armed reconnaissance helicopter was to be the Army's first combat helicopter that was sufficiently survivable, lethal, and versatile enough to be equally adept at both the tactical reconnaissance and attack missions.

In April 1991 the LHX program became known as the reconnaissance and attack RAH-66 Comanche.

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