U.S. Army looks for significant aviation growth
The U.S. Army would like to increase greatly the size of its aviation special operations organization, with more helicopters, people and overseas locations, according to a report by Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine.
The growth plan, if approved, would add more than 60 additional special operations aircraft to the force, both Boeing-built MH-47 Chinooks and Sikorsky MH-60 Black Hawks, Aviation Week, an aerospace industry trade publication, said.
Military planners have been impressed by the performance in Afghanistan by Army Special Operations helicopter units and are pressing for them to play a heavier role in future conflicts, according to the publication.
The goal would be to increase air support to each of the regional commands. But, quoting Army commanders, the magazine said the growth plan “is just now starting through the process” and is far from approved.
The Army's Special Operations helicopters currently operate from two locations outside the United States to support regional commanders - in South Korea for the Pacific Command, and in Puerto Rico to aid Southern Command. That may be expanded, according to the magazine, by placing a unit in Europe, most likely Germany, and another in the Middle East, probably Qatar, to support the U.S. Central Command.
Although the Army wants to expand its elite helicopter fleet, it is trying to reduce the overall number of aircraft it operates. The Army is on course to concentrate on three aircraft: the MD MH-6M Little Bird, the Boeing MH-47G Chinook and the Sikorsky MH-60M Black Hawk. Currently, units operate six types of aircraft. Aviation Week said the Army plans to keep the fleet size for the A/MH-6 Little Birds constant at 45 aircraft. But the fleet of Black Hawks would grow to 96 from 69 and the Chinook number would increase to 72 from 36.
The first phase of the helicopter consolidation strategy is already underway
and should be completed around 2012, the Army told Aviation Week.
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