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U.S. Army buying fewer helicopters to pay for Future Vertical Lift

by Dan Parsons via Vertical Magazine

Where the Army budget included funding for 50 remanufactured AH-64E Apache helicopters in the current fiscal year, it plans to buy 30 next year and no new build AH-64Es. U.S. Army Photo by Capt. Kyle Abraham

Speedy future rotorcraft that will field in the 2030s are already cutting into the U.S. Army aviation budget, sucking funding for production of legacy aircraft like the Apache and Black Hawk to pay for prototypes of the helicopters that could replace them. 

The shift from buying or remanufacturing legacy helicopters to investing in Future Vertical Lift technologies like the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) and Future Attack Recon Aircraft (FARA) is expected to become more pronounced as those new aircraft enter production in coming years, said Army Budget Director Maj. Gen. Paul Chamberlain.

Overall procurement funding in the Army’s budget request for fiscal year 2022, which begins Oct. 1, is $21.3 billion, down $2.8 billion from the current enacted budget, according to budget documents released May 28. Nearly half that amount — $1.2 billion — was cut from procurement of the UH-60 Black Hawk, AH-64 Apache and CH-47 Chinook helicopters, Chamberlain told reporters on May 28 during a briefing at the Pentagon.

“Our request is consistent with the Army aviation modernization strategy,” Chamberlain said. “We are adjusting production rate for the Black Hawk and for the Apache helicopters in order to continue development of the Future Vertical Lift aircraft.” 

But procurement quantities for all rotorcraft types in the Army fleet are down in the coming fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The Army has requested only 24 UH-60M Black Hawks in 2022, down from 42 in the current fiscal year. Where the service bought 50 remanufactured AH-64E Apache helicopters in the current fiscal year, it plans to buy 30 next year. It will buy no new Apaches at all instead of the 69 it bought this year and no new-build CH-47F Block I Chinooks in 2022, according to Army budget documents.

Army budgeters did request funding for six MH-47G Block II helicopters, half as many Chinooks as it purchased in the current fiscal year. The G-model Special Operations version of the aircraft now shares a budget line with advanced procurement for Block II upgrades on the Army’s 465 F-model Chinooks, which the service has attempted for several years to avoid. 

A total of $163.7 million will pay for six MH-47G variant “ReNew aircraft” at $145.2 million and advanced procurement supporting fiscal year 2023 production. “The CH-47F Block II procurement costs, MH-47G Block II Army common procurement costs and MH-47G Block II retrofits costs share this funding line,” Army budget documents read.  

Funding saved through reductions in procurement of what the Army calls “enduring fleet” aircraft will go directly toward development of FLRAA and FARA. In turn, the research, development, test and evaluation funding line for the Future Vertical Lift Cross Functional Team (CFT) will rise from $1.13 billion in the current fiscal year to $1.56 billion in fiscal 2022. 

“With these reductions in mind, the Army protected its modernization priorities and CFT efforts by adjusting funding to enduring capabilities and other non-CFT efforts,” Chamberlain said. “Through a deliberate process, we prioritized modernization efforts while having to adjust production of some enduring capabilities.”