The Army has determined the hardworking UH-60 Black Hawks and 72A Lakota helicopters are an “enduring capability” it wants to retain in the long term, the Utility Helicopter project manager said.

Sikorsky [UTC] produces the Black Hawk; Airbus Group

 builds the LUH.

The Army has made a large investment in the helicopters, which serve the nation inside and outside its borders, said Col. Thomas Todd in an interview with Defense Daily. The helicopters are an embedded capability that serves many different purposes and the service wants to keep them.

The UH-60M Black Hawk program of record sees continued success with its multi-year contract, and another multi-year contract is in the works, due in 2016, Todd said.

In 2012, the Army signed an $8.5 billion multi-year contract with Sikorsky through 2017. Canceling the current multi-year contract could have large financial consequences–some $259 million in termination costs according to some estimates–for the government as well as putting a chill on industry interest in multi-year procurement.

The Navy’s Fiscal year 2015 budget proposal would cancel its 2016 plan to buy 29 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters as a carrier potentially is retired. This is tied to the current multi-year contract with Sikorsky to procure helicopters for the Army and Navy.

Todd said, “The Army is still hopeful the Navy will honor the minimum procurement quantities.”

The next multi-year contract will be Army-only and not include the Navy, he said. The contract would, however, have some options for other FMS customers to come aboard.

While no major UH-60M program upgrades are planned, in the near term the ability to do GPS approaches at home and in a tactical environment will “basically give our aviators a level of precision in all types of weather for navigation and approaches,” he said.

The new system will start fielding by the end of calendar year 2014, Todd said. The GPS program was a four-year Sikorsky development.

The major software upgrade will allow the Black Hawk to operate in weather it has not been able to tackle previously under its Global Air Traffic Management system.

The 72A Lakota also falls under Todd’s Utility Office purview. Under its aviation restructure plan, the Army will replace the current single engine TH-67 trainer with the Lakota, which is already in the Army inventory. This would ensure aviators understand the dual-engine and digital cockpit environments, rather than training in an aircraft dissimilar to what the service has in the inventory. The TH-67 would be divested.

The whole fleet would benefit, Todd said. By consolidating many Lakotas at Fort Rucker, the cost per flight hour would drop. New consolidated logistics contracts would start in 2016, and savings would start showing then.

No major upgrades are planned for the Lakota now, as all the mission packages are sufficient, he said.

The Utility Helicopter office is also awaiting a decision on moving forward with the new Improved Turbine Engine Program for the Mike Model Black Hawk and the AH-64 Apache.

The Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) is being completed, Todd said.

If the program gets the green light to move forward, the Black Hawk and Apache would get the new engine in the mid-2020s, he said.

This type of technology, a more powerful, yet more efficient engine hasn’t been done before, he said.

Instead of a more powerful engine that uses more gas, soldiers would have a more powerful engine that uses less gas for the same mission.

“At the end of the day, they’ll have greater power and extend its range by 15-18 percent,” he said.

“The challenge for us is to actually see if we can build what the demonstrator demonstrated, in a way we can manufacture, at reasonable cost for the U.S. taxpayer,” Todd said. “We’re not after a gold-plated engine.”

The new engine does have scalability for potential use on a future rotary wing and has applicability for current platforms.

“We do believe we are being innovative, being adaptive and at same time accomplishing quite a bit of better business buying efficiencies,” Todd said.

The office is doing more with fewer resources, but constantly thinking of ways to take care of the soldier and at same time create efficiencies. “It’s a great team, full of outside the box thinkers, Todd said.