An MH-47G Chinook (Boeing Photo)
An MH-47G Chinook (Boeing Photo)

Army officials are defending the decision to “halt” buying the Block II version of the CH-47F Chinook as they consider developing an eventual replacement for the tandem-rotor helicopter.

Service acquisition chief Bruce Jette on May 1 said the Army plans to buy the minimum number of Block II Chinooks — all Special Operations Command G-models — manufacturer Boeing [BA] needs to build to keep the line open. The production halt will give the service time to “make assessments” of whether the capabilities were the correct investment, he said.

“It’s a halt to find out where we need to go with respect to the true future technology for heavy future vertical lift,” Jette told the House Armed Services AirLand subcommittee. “That doesn’t necessarily exclude the 47, the 47 Block II or an alternative variant. … It’s just a statement to slow down, stop … make reassessments and make sure that we’re spending the taxpayers dollars appropriately to meet the future vertical heavylift needs.”

Boeing says it needs to build 24 Block II Chinooks, minimum, a year to keep the line open. Jette said the Army needs to buy only six per year and the remainder could be made up through foreign military sales.

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

The Army’s fiscal 2020 budget proposal funds the purchase of nine Special Operations Command MH-47G Chinooks, and the service plans to buy only that Block II variant, not the CH-47F Block II, in the out years. The service had scheduled CH-47F, Block II production to begin in fiscal 2021.

With Future Vertical Lift (FVL) — one of the Army’s top modernization priorities — underway, the Army now believes the CH-47F Block I can fulfill its heavy vertical lift needs until a replacement is developed. A heavylift version of FVL likely would not be funded until after the Army begins to field replacements for the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, a portion of its AH-64 Apache fleet and the UH-60 Black Hawk.

Gen. John M. Murray, who as leader of Futures Command oversees modernization for the Army, told the committee he determined the legacy CH-47F is relatively new to the Army and would serve until a replacement could be developed.

When the Army performed its investment analysis, the CH-47 “was the youngest fleet we have, in terms of production and met the operational requirements we were looking at,” Murray said. “My position is it meets the requirement we have in the near future.”

“This is the first budget we have presented to the Hill that, I think, clearly lays out where our priorities are in terms of modernization,” Murray added. “I know there’s also a question about investments in legacy programs and how they contribute and I think we continue to work to define, very analytically, how our investments are aligned.”