An MH-47G Chinook (Boeing Photo)

NASHVILLE–An air-to-air refueling capability for a Future Vertical Lift (FVL) platform will be “increasingly important” for U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command, as the command seeks to sustain its operational versatility, Col. Jon Tussing, the deputy commander, told the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual conference on Apr. 16.

Tussing said that the command has a representative on the Army Futures Command’s cross-functional team on FVL in order to weigh in on the FVL needs of the command at the “foundational level.”

Tussing also laid out several other modernization priorities for the command, including white phosphorus night vision goggles (NVGs) for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment – the “Night Stalkers” – based at Ft. Campbell, Ky.; the Mission Enhanced Little Bird (MELB) Block 3.0 upgrades for Boeing [BA] A/MH-6M helicopters; and the buy of 69 Boeing Block II MH-47G Special Operations Command Chinooks. Some MH-47s now in the inventory are “Vietnam-era tails,” Tussing said.

The Army’s fiscal 2020 budget proposal funds the purchase of nine Block II MH-47Gs, and the Army plans to buy that Block II variant, not the CH-47F Block II, in the out years, Army officials have said. The service had scheduled CH-47F, Block II production to begin in fiscal 2021.

The Army had planned to upgrade 542 Chinooks to Block II configuration — its entire fleet, including 473 planned CH-47F and the 69 MH-47G Special Operations variants.

Tussing said that U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command has made “huge leaps” in the last year in fielding the white phosphorus NVGs, which he said pilots favor over the green phosphorus AN/AVS-6 NVGs for visual acuity in seeing terrain features and the low background contrast.

MELB Block 3.0 includes a longer tail boom, new rotor blades and rear gear box, a better ability to fly at high altitudes in hot weather, a 500 pound higher payload capacity, improved flight controls, and an improved cockpit with a full moving map.

Tussing also told conferees in Nashville that the General Atomics MQ-1C Extended Range Unmanned Aircraft System has been “a great asset for us.”

“We’re transitioning from owning the night to owning the spectrum,” he said.