The US Marines' helicopter force is aging on all levels, from CH-46 Sea Knights far older than their pilots to the 80s era UH-1N Hueys and AH-1W Cobra attack helicopters that make up the Corps' helicopter assault force. While the V-22 program has staggered along for almost 2 decades under accidents, technical delays, and cost issues, replacement of the USMC's backbone helicopter assets has languished. Given combined with the high-demand scenarios inherent in the current war, other efforts are clearly required.
Enter the H-1 program, the USMC's plan to remanufacture 100 of the Marines' old UH-1N Hueys and 180 of its AH-1W SuperCobra attack helicopters into advanced variants that discard the signature 2-bladed rotors for modern 4-bladed improvements, redo the aircraft's electronics, and add improved engines and weapons to offer a new level of performance. At least, that was the idea. It hasn't quite worked out that way, and the H-1 program has encountered its own share of delays and issues. Nevertheless, the program survived a recent review and continues on into the low-rate initial production stage.
The H-1 Program
It seemed fairly straightforward: update a pair of old USMC standbys, creating a transport (UH-1Y Venom) and attack helicopter (AH-1Z Viper) backbone with maximum commonality. It hasn't worked out that way.
The H-1 program is designed to resolve existing safety issues in both aircraft, reduce life-cycle costs, significantly enhance combat capability, and achieve 85% commonality between aircraft. The goal is airframes that will last through 10,000 flight hours of service life. Major modifications include a new rotor system with semi-automatic blade fold, new composite main and four-bladed tail rotor, upgraded drive system and landing gear, and pylon structural modifications. These aircraft will have increased maneuverability, speed and range, and payload capability. Additionally, both aircraft will incorporate a newly designed, fully integrated, common cockpit that will reduce pilot workload and improve situational awareness. Weapon fit-outs will also be improved, most visibly via AIM-9 Sidewinder air-air missiles on the AH-1Z.
The H-1 program has required substantial changes to both cost and schedule 4 times now, while addressing numerous technical issues. The original plan was to remanufacture the helicopters: 180 AH-1W Super Cobras to AH-1Z Vipers, and 100 UH-1N Hueys to UH-1Y Venoms. To avoid taking each Huey out of service for 2 years in the face of ongoing demand, however, all but the first few UH-1Ys will now have new-build airframes. Other program changes along these lines include putting new UH-1Y nose sections into production earlier, and establishing a rotating pool of government-furnished equipment so that a UH-1N does not have to be taken out of service until a UH-1Y Venom is delivered.
In May 2005, the Navy warned Bell that the H-1 program was in serious jeopardy because the Texas-based company has been failing to meet its needs, and reserved the option of killing the program. The memo demanded "fundamental changes" in Bell Helicopter's management processes as well as its production processes. Recertification in Earned Value Management, used to track program performance, was high on the list of "to-dos."
Ultimately, changes were made – including some executive changes at the highest levels of Bell Helicopter Textron – and a May 31/06 Defense Acquisition Board process made the decision to proceed with the program. The UH-1Y's Initial operational capability (IOC) is planned for September 2008, but IOC for the remanufactured AH-1Z has been pushed back to FY 2011.
H-1 program spending
* FY 2005: $ 381.3 million – $168.2M RDT&E, $213.1M Production (7: 3 UH-1Y, 4 AH-1Z)
* FY 2006: $ 372.9 million – $58.9M RDT&E, $314.0M Production (7 UH-1Y)
* FY 2007: $ 451.6 million – $7.8M RDT&E, $451.6M Production (11: 9 UH-1Y, 2 AH-1Z, incl. $68.6M supplementals)
* FY 2008 Request: $522.1 million – $3.6M RDT&E, $518.5M Production (20)
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