Starting at about $4 billion a year in 2018, replacing the Army’s 4,300 aircraft will become less expensive over the next decade before shooting up to nearly $5 billion a year in 2032, according to a new report from the Congressional budget Office.
Most of the Army’s 4,300 piloted aircraft are helicopters and most of those are one of three types — the H-60 Black Hawk, AH-64 Apache and H-47 Chinook. Eventually replacing the entire fleet is a top priority for the Army and “dominates the Army’s future procurement costs,” the CBO report, published May 10, says. The report estimates the cost to the service through 2050 of replacing those aircraft under current plans.
Annual replacement costs are projected to fall from $4.1 billion in 2018 to about $1.5 billion over the 2020s because the Army heavily invested in buying new aircraft and upgrading old airframes between 2007 and 2016.
“Relatively few aircraft are near the end of their service life, reducing the number of aircraft to be replaced during the 2020s,” the report says.
Once replacement procurement begins in earnest — when Future Vertical Lift (FVL) platforms begin to enter services in the 2030s — annual costs will rise to around $4.7 billion by 2032, before again declining through 2045, according to the report.
Army plans are to finish baselining the legacy fleets at the AH-64E, CH-47F and UH-60M/V before transitioning to FVL in the early- to mid-2030s. CBO included FVL development and procurement in its projections.
FVL currently includes funding for two active development programs: the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) for transport and the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) for improved armed reconnaissance capabilities,” the report says.
The Army’s current FVL priority is FARA, which will fill the gap of an armed aerial scout left by divestment of the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior and a portion of the AH-64E Apache gunship fleet.
FLRAA, which will replace the UH-60 Black Hawk and should progress from the ongoing Joint Multirole Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD) program. Alternately called the “FVL medium” variant, the program has two operational prototypes flying — the Sikorsky [LMT]/Boeing [BA] SB-1 Defiant and the Bell [TXT] V-280 advanced tiltrotor.
With history as a guide, the Army’s pursuit of both programs is uncertain. Service officials already have floated canning Block II upgrades for the CH-47F to focus funding on FVL efforts. Those upgrades were included in CBO’s estimates.
“CBO’s estimates are subject to several sources of uncertainty,” the report says. “The characteristics of the two FVL aircraft have not been finalized, and technical challenges could change schedules, characteristics, or costs.”
Despite the Army’s avowed dedication to both programs, Gabriel Coll and Andrew Hunter point out in a May 10 paper that the Army still has not spent more than $15 million per year on Future Vertical Lift Medium. These investments are not insignificant. Compare that line item to the $8 billion a year the Army spends on all of its vertical lift programs.
“These numbers suggest that a shift towards generational change has a long way to go,” Coll and Hunter write. Coll is program manager and research assistant with the Defense Industrial Initiatives Group (DIIG) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Hunter is a senior fellow for the International Security Program and director of DIIG.
“According to DoD projections from the fiscal year 2019 FYDP, the United States planned to spend $47 billion on vertical lift (procurement and RDT&E) over the next five years (2019-2023),” they write. “This would mean a 4.1 percent decline in spending from the past five years (2014-2018), which includes several budget years when overall defense spending was declining.”
“The exact amounts dedicated to vertical lift modernization in the next five years will vary from the projections in the president’s fiscal year 2019 budget request,” Coll and Hunter write. “The president’s fiscal year 2020 budget request already reinforces this point. For example, this new budget request includes substantial funding for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA).”