America's Aging Armed Forces: Another Upgrade Planned for Vietnam-Era Helicopter

The U.S. Army will hold a flight demonstration on Tuesday of a newly upgraded version of the Vietnam-era OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter, an Army-led initiative that officials say will save $600 million in coming years.

The Army managed the project, which first began in December 2010 and was aimed at improving the capabilities of the existing helicopters by giving them a new common sensor, upgrading their cockpit displays, and cutting their weight by about 160 pounds (73 kg).

By tapping its own expertise and working closely with the helicopter’s original manufacturer, Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron Inc, and Honeywell International, which makes the helicopter’s avionics, Army officials said they were able to build two prototype aircraft and start flying them just two years after the program began.

“We’ve taken the best of everything and tried to package it into an aircraft as quickly as possible and get it out there … to the force at considerable savings to the U.S. government and the U.S. taxpayer,” Army Colonel Robert Grigsby, project manager for armed scout helicopters, told reporters.

As the “lead system integrator” for the initiative, the Army also retained the technical rights to the new F-model, unlike earlier programs in which the integration work was outsourced to private firms which kept those rights, Grigsby said.

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