About Me

My photo
MILITARY TECHNOLOGY (MILTECH) is the world's leading international tri-service defence monthly magazine in the English language. MILITARY TECHNOLOGY is "Required Reading for Defence Professionals". Follow us on Twitter: MILTECH1

02 May 2016

How does the 160th SOAR replace the Little Bird?

The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) is facing a difficult decision over how it will replace its current fleet of A/MH-6M Little Birds, according to Major General Clay Hutmacher, deputy commanding general, US Army Special Operations Command.

While the A/MH-6M Block III upgrade will take the current aircraft out to the mid-to late 2020s, in Hutmacher’s words there is a requirement for another small, robust type of helicopter. Even with the upgrade to the existing SOAR fleet, delivery schedules for new aircraft have sharpened the need for an early analysis of alternatives.

“We need to preserve a little ‘street fighter’ as we land in the streets all the time,” said Hutmacher. He compared the rotor diameter of the A/MH-6M at 27.4 feet [8.3m] against that of an MH-60 at 53.8 feet [16.36m].  “While it is not realistic that we can stay in that footprint, we need something smaller than a Black Hawk.”

When asked about the oncoming Future Vertical Lift (FVL) options, he restated the need for speed, range and capability. Whether the option could be found in the Capability Set 1 (CS1) which calls for a helicopter that can deliver “ reconnaissance, light attack and light assault/lift operations.”

Unlike the acquisition of the Little Birds, it would be harder for the SOAR to select a platform that could only serve their needs. As Hutmacher explained: “If we get a Black Hawk the Army pays, although what we do to it afterwards we pay for. SOCOM doesn’t have the luxury of volume buying power. We would need 70 new Little Birds [for example] with spares and buying them through SOCOM would be very expensive.”

This could be one of the reasons behind the recent Request for Information (RfI) released by the Improved Turbine Engine/ Future Vertical Lift Project Management Office (ITE/FVL PMO) in February this year. If the decision to replace the Bell Helicopter OH-56D Kiowa Warriors with Boeing AH-64E Apaches operating with Grey Eagle and Shadow unmanned systems in the armed reconnaissance role is not as effective as hoped, then an option such as Sikorsky’s S-97 Raider may start to figure in the Army’s deliberation for a CS1 aircraft: the Raider has a rotor diameter of 34 feet [10m] and was designed with the Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) role in mind.

Recalling the real life battles in Mogadishu, made infamous by the film Black Hawk Down, Hutmacher said that exemplified why small and light was good as a Special Operations Force (SOF) platform. However, one of the key negative aspects was that due to the lack of range their base had to be close to the city, which meant that they were virtually constantly under observation. He said that needed to change.

A SOF helicopter also needs to be deployable, either by itself with a high airspeed or in the back of a relevant transport aircraft.  He also saw little value in any future aircraft having an ‘optionally piloted icicle (OPV) as far as the 160th was concerned. “If you are in support of troops on the ground and they are in harms way, it would be difficult not to send a manned platform to support them.”

Finally, he added that the A/MH-6M’s payload said by Hutmacher to be around 2,000 lb for the Little Bird had to be retained or improved, with engines that gave more power and, if possible, quieter too. “If we can mask ourselves for another 30 seconds into target then that is a significant advantage,” he concluded.

Andrew Drwiega