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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Army Addresses OH-58 Shortage with A2D Upgrade

By Chris Sheppard, Associate Editor

CW3 Aaron Posey (right), checks out the upgrades on the OH-58D with squadron commander Lt. Col. Paul Cravey.

Bell has handed over the first Bell OH-58 Kiowa Warrior under the “A2D” conversion program to the U.S. Army. The helicopter, which joined the 1-6 Air Cavalry Squadron in Fort Riley, Kan., represents the first to receive a conversion from the existing OH-58A model to the rebuilt “D” variant under the wartime replacement aircraft (WRA) program, which seeks to replenish the Army’s Kiowa Warrior fleet lost to attrition.

According to Lt. Col. Matthew Hannah, Kiowa Warrior product manager, the Army “fell below our required Kiowa Warrior strength of 386 [helicopters] in 2004.” Combat losses during conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq accounted for most of the fleet reduction. At the moment, the Army is 42 helicopters short of the required 368 airframes, with another seven Kiowas “pending attrition,” Hannah said. “We have to do analysis determining the best course of action to replace those,” he added.

Pilots from the 1-6 Air Cavalry Squadron in Fort Riley, Kan. prepare to take the first A2D Kiowa Warrior on an acceptance test flight.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Aaron Posey test flew the OH-58D for Fort Riley and reported that the helicopter was “very, very smooth,” adding that he thought it was in “the top five percent, if not the smoothest aircraft I’ve ever flown.”

Lt. Col. Paul Cravey, commander of the 1-6 Air Cavalry Squadron, is one the units that is feeling the pinch from the Kiowa shortage, as he is currently at “two-thirds of authorized strength.” The Air Cavalry Squadron returned from Iraq in March 2011, leaving part of its fleet behind for the unit that replaced them. This new addition brings Cravey’s fleet up to 20 helicopters, still short of the full complement of 30 helicopters needed for Fort Riley, despite Cravey having the aircrew and staff to support 30.

Cravey related that during a recent aerial gunnery training exercise, Fort Riley only had nine available Kiowas to train 39 aircrews within three weeks. “It was tough to turn everybody through in the amount of range time that we available to actually go out and do the live-fire gunnery,” Cravey said. “That is some extreme strain on my maintenance crew to be able to launch and recover those aircraft.”

With these types of shortages in mind, the WRA is working toward filling the Kiowa gap. “Currently we are planning on 23 ‘A2D’ conversions to replace the WRAs and … 26 ‘new metal’ WRA for a total of 49 aircraft,” Hannah said.

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