European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) is heavily promoting its UH-72A Lakota to the U.S. Air Force as a safeguard against cuts to the U.S. Army budget that would seriously impact UH-72 production.
Proposed budget cuts for the 2014 fiscal year could reduce acquisition of the U.S. Army’s planned UH-72A fleet by 31 aircraft—which could effectively end Lakota production by early 2015, according to Dave Haines, vice president of rotorcraft programs. EADS has delivered 278 UH-72As to date to active, active reserve and National Guard Army units since the first delivery in December 2006. The Army has put 313 aircraft under contract, and had planned to purchase a total 354. However, proposed budget cuts will drop that number down to 323. A total of 41 currently remain to be purchased, although that will be cut to 10 if the budget cuts occur.
A total of 283 Lakotas have been delivered through of the end of October, of which 278 went to the Army and five to the Navy under the Army contract. Initially, 31 aircraft were planned for purchased in 2014 and 10 in 2015. Instead, U.S. President Obama’s budget issued in April calls for just 10 to be purchased next year and none in 2015.
However, Haines noted that the U.S. Air Force currently has 62 rapidly aging Bell UH-1Ns in service that could be replaced by the UH-72. While the Air Force has stated that it plans to refurbish the UH-1Ns to keep them flying for the next 10 years, replacing them with the Lakota would produce long-term cost savings, he said.
The Air Force currently uses about half of its UH-1N fleet for security at nuclear missile launch sites and about half for the movement of personnel in the Military District of Washington.
Haines also noted that when the Air Force has a mission that the UH-1N can’t handle, that mission tends to get handed off to U.S. Army Lakota units.
The logic in replacing the UH-1Ns with UH-72s is that the Lakotas would have an initial acquisition cost similar to the cost of upgrading the UH-1N, while having a much lower direct operating cost, Haines said. Both aircraft received powered from twin engines – the UH-1N using twin Pratt & Whitney Canada T400 engines rated at 900 SHP, while the lighter UH-72 uses twin Turbomeca Arriel 1E2 engines rated at 738 SHP.
“So it becomes a question of spending the money for older aircraft or investing in cheaper to operate new aircraft,” Haines said.
As for the armed version of the UH-72A currently in competition for the Army’s proposed and long-delayed Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) program, the AAS-72X “has been determined to be affordable based on the RFI (request for information) at between $13-15 million,” he said.
“It is also viewed as low to moderate risk for both technical and schedule. It can meet an 80 percent requirement for technical, schedule, cost and capability, and we have a technical roadmap that will close or mitigate the remaining 20 percent capability gap,” Haines noted.