The Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche was cancelled on 23 February 2004, after 22 years, 6 program restructurings, and 6.9 billion dollars. The Army said it would use the $14.6 billion earmarked for 121 Comanches between 2004 and 2011 to buy 796 additional Black Hawk and other helicopters and to upgrade and modernize 1,400 helicopters already in the fleet. The Army wants new proposals to develop and build a new armed reconnaissance aircraft. The Army plans to initiate programs for a total of 303 light utility helicopters and 368 armed reconnaissance planes.
The $39 billion program Comanche was intended to be the Army's next generation armed reconnaissance helicopter. It also is the first helicopter developed specifically for this role. The Comanche will provide Army Aviation the opportunity to move into the 21st century with a weapon system of unsurpassed warfighting capabilities crucial to the Army's future strategic vision.
The RAH-66 Comanche was an advanced twin engine, two seat (tandem) light attack/armed reconnaissance helicopter developed for the U. S. Army by a joint venture comprising Boeing Helicopters and Sikorsky Aircraft. The Comanche features a five-bladed bearingless main rotor, a shrouded tail rotor, a low radar cross section composite fuselage with retractable weapons pylon, a fly-by-wire flight control system, and a fully integrated cockpit. The mission equipment package incorporates forward-looking infrared (FLIR) and image intensified television sensors for night pilotage and target acquisition. The Comanche will initially be armed with the semi-active laser Hellfire missile, the air-to-air Stinger missile, 2.75 inch aerial rockets, and a turreted 20 mm gun.
The Comanche was intended to replace the current fleet of AH-1 and OH-58 helicopters in all air cavalry troops and light division attack helicopter battalions, and supplement the AH-64 Apache in heavy division/corps attack helicopter battalions. The Army's April 2000 Aviation Force Modernization Plan recommended acquisition of 1,213 Comanche aircraft, valued at nearly $34 billion. The first US Army Comanche unit will be operationally equipped in 2006. Aviation battalions will be reorganized as part of the Army's 2000 Aviation Force Modernization Plan. AH-1 Cobras were divested by October 2001, and A and C model OH-58 Kiowas will be retired by 2004. The Cobras and Kiowas will be replaced by AH-64D Apaches and eventually by RAH-66 Comanches, the new reconnaissance and attack helicopter scheduled to begin joining the Army in 2008. Later-model Kiowas are scheduled for retirement in fiscal year 2013, according to the plan.
As of September 2002 the Army was considering a plan to cut the number of Comanche helicopters by almost 40%, to about 800, amid growing pressure to cancel the program entirely. Skeptics of the program suggest that unmanned planes capable of performing the Comanche's surveillance and precision-strike roles will be available to the Army prior to the maturing of the Comanche system. Under a revised concept of operations, each two-person Comanche crew could control one or two UAVs that would fly ahead of the Comanche, expanding the crews' vision of the battlefield.
In October 2002 the Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) approved the Army's restructuring plan for the Comanche helicopter program - the sixth so far in the program's history. The new Acquisition Decision Memorandum (ADM) formally approving the plan added about $3.4 billion to the Comanche's $3.1-billion development program. The program's original procurement level of 1,213 aircraft was cut to 650, due in part to the longer-than-expected service life of the AH-64 Apache combat helicopter. The first helicopters will be combat-ready in September 2009, three years behind the previous schedule. Production and purchase of the first helicopters would begin in fiscal 2006, one year later than planned under the previous schedule. The contractor team would produced the first 650 Comanches for 14 to 15 years at a rate of up to 60 helicopters per year [a reduction from the previously planned maximum annual procurement rate of 95 per year]. The Army says it needs a minimum of 819 helicopters. Reducing the Comanche buy to 650 helicopters will cut $13 billion from the $42 billion procurement budget, but also will raise the cost of each helicopter by about $8.1 million. The Comanche's unit cost will rise from $24.1 million to $32.2 million. The Pentagon approved production quantities in the Comanche program's early years that fall slightly short of the earlier plan: 15 in 2007, 23 in 2008 and 35 in 2009. The earlier schedule called for 18, 24 and 36 aircraft, respectively. The latest plan lets the Army buy up to 60 helicopters per year once full production begins after 2009, versus 62 under the old plan.
Before its cancellation, the Comanche underwent testing in 2003. According to the DOT&E, technical challenges remained for software integration and testing of mission equipment, weight reduction, radar signatures, antenna performance, gun system performance, and aided target detection algorithm performance. Since the restructure, the Program Office identified engineering solutions to the known technical challenges. The efficacy of those solutions and identification of the unknown issues woult not have become apparent until developmental testing began in FY05. The approved Comanche test program would have provided ample opportunity to evaluate these technical issues and determine the effectiveness and suitability of the Comanche helicopter.
The DOT&E stated that the Comanche program retained a medium-risk strategy for integration and testing of mission equipment on the aircraft. Software for delivery prior to LRIP would have minimal function (no armament, radar, aircraft survivability equipment, or digital communications). Integration testing of most mission equipment software and advanced functionality occurs in the last year of EMD. Memory requirements, software throughput, and bus requirements for several subsystems were projected to exceed allocations.
Empty weight projections for Block I, II, and III aircraft were slightly higher than weight goals for each block. Projected aircraft performance at these projected weights met ORD requirements for vertical rate-of-climb. To achieve these projections, the Army had to keep weight growth during development lower than historical averages and also successfully implement weight reduction initiatives.
Based on analysis by DOT&E of current designs and limited testing on a contractor range, the radar warning receiver and two communications antennas did not meet some RCS allocations. The satellite receiver antenna did not meet performance requirements, and the radar warning receiver sensitivity was marginal. Efforts to reduce the RCS would have been likely to adversely affect the performance of already marginal antennas.
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