The US Army is preparing to reduce its fleet of UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters by almost 8%, as it prepares to replace them, said Maj. Gen. Mac McCurry, commander of the US Aviation Center of Excellence, Army, in a recent interview.
The service plans to cut approximately 157 Black Hawks, or 7.5% of its total utility fleet, from its active-duty component. McCurry explained that the move is intended to help the Army optimize its current fleet while also making room in the budget for the Black Hawk’s replacement, the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft, or FLRAA, which will begin fielding early in the 2030s.
A year ago, the Army chose Textron-Bell’s V-280 Valor tiltrotor aircraft to replace the UH-60, made by Sikorsky 40 years ago. The Army also plans to replace the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, manufactured by Boeing, with the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft. Two companies are building competitive demonstration aircraft.
“It’s really about balancing current readiness with future acquisition and deployment,” McCurry said. “If you look at our specific utility fleet, we had grown that fleet since the early 2000s by more than 300 aircraft.”
That growth kept pace with the Army’s increased strength during continued rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fiscal 2004, the Black Hawk fleet consisted of 1,806 aircraft but increased to 2,135 during counterinsurgency operations.
Today, with a smaller force, the service doesn’t need to keep all those helicopters in service, he said. The total will now be reduced to 1,978 aircraft.
The Army will only remove the oldest aircraft from the active component, a few Alpha models, and the rest Lima models. These aircraft will not come from units actively deployed or preparing to deploy but rather from what the service calls “operational readiness fleets,” McCurry explained.
By focusing on these aircraft, he added, the service reduces the overall age of the fleet, decreasing long-term maintenance requirements, including mitigating “some critical parts challenges.”
The Army plans to sell the disposed Black Hawks through Foreign Military Sales transactions or through a trade-in and sales program, McCurry said. Each plane is expected to fetch an approximate price of $2 million.
It has not yet been determined when the plans will be retired from the fleet, McCurry said. Fleet managers between the Program Executive Office for Aviation and the Army Aviation and Missile Command will evaluate the health of the fleet to determine which aircraft should be moved and when.
The Army remains committed to modernizing its Mike model Black Hawks, the latest variant, McCurry said.
The service is also providing Victor models to the Army National Guard. The Victor models are upgraded Lima helicopters with digital cockpits identical to those of the Mike model.
The Black Hawks are also expected to receive all-new engines through the Turbine Engine Improvement Program, but the effort has been delayed due to technical and supply chain issues during engine development, testing, and early phases of production.
Meanwhile, the Army plans to review the size of the fleet of CH-47 Chinook freighters, made by Boeing, to make sure it also fits the service’s force structure and final strength, McCurry said.
The AH-64 Apache attack helicopters will not receive the same review at this time, he added, because “we have fallen short of AH-64 with some recent losses and…we are still short of AH-64.”