A key Air Force official expects the service to announce a timeline and acquisition strategy this summer for its UH-1N helicopter replacement program.

Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) chief Gen. Steven Wilson said Tuesday money is in the fiscal year 2016 budget request, a program office has stood up and the Air Force is working through an acquisition strategy. Wilson also said the Air Force hopes to replace its fleet of UH-1Ns within roughly the next five years. 

Bell Helicopter's UH-1N helicopter. Photo: Air Force.
Bell Helicopter’s UH-1N helicopter. Photo: Air Force.

The Air Force requested $2 million in FY ’16 for UH-1N replacement and expects to spend $980 million over the next five years. According to Air Force budget documents, the service has 62 UH-1Ns in its current fleet, which Wilson said have been in service since 1969. Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Michelle Rollins said Tuesday in an email the service is currently evaluating acquisition alternatives and has not yet approved an acquisition strategy.

“It doesn’t meet the speed, range or payload capabilities we require,” Wilson told an audience at a Peter Huessy breakfast event on Capitol Hill.

The UH-1N replacement program will address vertical lift support mission requirements for AFGSC, Air Force District of Washington (AFDW), Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) and Air Education and Training Command (AETC).

The UH-1N replacement will provide vertical lift support for nuclear weapon convoy escort, 24/7 adverse weather capable ICBM emergency security response and operational support, as well as Operational Support Airlift (OSA) in the national capital reason. Other UH-1N replacement missions would include PACAF OSA, Air Force survival school support and combat aviation school training.

The Air Force said in its budget book that the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) and Lead Command have prioritized immediate fielding over development time to achieve objective performance values due to the capability gaps with the current system that restrict mission execution. The Air Force said acquisition of mature system will enable the Air Force to tailor process timelines and expedite the delivery of an urgently-required capability.

The UH-1N replacement, the Air Force said, does not possess an established engineering service life based on accumulated flight hours. However, the service said the current UH-1N fleet has severe capability shortfalls in carrying capacity, speed, range, endurance and survivability and is unable to meet their assigned mission requirements.

The program will acquire government/commercial off the shelf (GOTS/COTS) vertical lift aircraft and will install modification kids to support mission requirements. FY ’16 funding provides for program management oversight and activities. Additionally, reports will be developed in support of this effort. These include, but are not limited to: analysis of alternatives (AoA), core logistics determination/core logistics and sustaining workloads estimate, lifecycle cost estimates, lifecycle sustainment plan, capability development document (CDD) and should-cost target.

The UH-1N is a light-lift utility helicopter developed by Bell Helicopter [TXT].