A CH-47F Chinook helicopter with 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade maneuvers to pick up an M119A3 howitzer during sling load operations on Fort Bragg, North Carolina, May 4. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

Will the U.S. Army’s planned 10 percent reduction in the service’s buy of Boeing [BA] CH-47 Block II upgrades result in a Nunn-McCurdy breach–a unit cost increase of 15 percent or more? The Army says no, and the service does not want to head to Capitol Hill to justify that decision.

“It’s always a consideration if it’s a Nunn-McCurdy violation,” Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy said on March 14 of reduced-buy decisions. “To my knowledge, we haven’t done that. The last thing we want to do is violate that. Then we’d have to be over there on the Hill.”

The Army said it would reduce the planned Chinook Block II buys to fund top modernization priorities, such as Long-Range Precision Fires, Future Vertical Lift (FVL) and the Next-Generation Combat Vehicle.

Last fall, Boeing said it is “quite concerned” about the effect a CH-47F Block II production delay could have, including a possible Nunn-McCurdy breach — a significant unit-cost increase that could put the program on life support.

Under the amendment by former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and former Rep. Dave McCurdy (D-Okla.) to the Defense Authorization Act of 1982, a military service secretary must notify Congress any time a defense project exceeds its acquisition unit cost budget by 15 percent. Should the project exceed its unit cost budget by 25 percent, the Nunn-McCurdy amendment allows Congress to kill the project unless convinced by the Secretary of Defense that the project is critical to national security, and there’s no alternative that will provide equal capability at less cost.

On March 13, McCarthy said the Army has “10 percent more Chinooks today than we need so we continue through the buy on FY 2020 for the conventional force, but we’re only buying SOCOM [MH-47G] Chinooks in the out years.”

“We’re really going to make a go of it for FVL across this FYDP [Future Years Defense Plan] and bring these new assets online,” he said.

The Army has budgeted $790 million in FY 2020 for FVL research and development.

Over the FYDP, the planned decrease for the CH-47 program will be $932 million, and the Army plans to redirect much of that funding to top procurement priorities as those programs move from prototypes to production in FY 2023 and FY 2024, Army officials said.

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.

Boeing said that CH-47F Block IIs are able to lift Army heavy equipment that no other Army aircraft is able to carry, including the new Oshkosh Defense® [OSK] armored Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) and the BAE Systems M777 Extended-Range howitzer.

A major component of the Block II upgrades is the advanced Chinook rotor blade, designed to provide more than the Army-required 1,500 pounds of lift at 4,000 feet elevation in 95-degree temperatures. Boeing has demonstrated at least 1,600 pounds of additional lift with its new composite blades.

Included in the upgrade package are improved avionics, speed enhancements and a heftier drive train to transfer greater power from the 20 percent more powerful Honeywell [HON] T55 engines to all new, swept-tip advanced Chinook rotor blades. Without any other upgrades, the blades are designed to provide an additional 1,500 pounds of lift.

The CH-47F Block I already has Boeing’s digital automatic flight control system, which aids pilots in making safe landings during brownout conditions, and the CH-47F Block IIs are to feature BAE Systems’ active parallel actuator subsystem, which is to provide pilots with tactile cues to inform the pilot of potential performance limitations and help reduce pilot workload.