Army Leaders Recommend Canceling Comanche Helicopter Program
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2004 Army leaders have recommended canceling a multibillion-dollar helicopter program, citing an Army study that suggests the funds would be more effective improving other areas of the service's aviation program.
Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee today announced that he and the service's chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, recommended canceling the 21-year-old Comanche helicopter program after a comprehensive review of Army aviation technology and structure.
The roughly $14 billion allocated to the program between now and 2011 will go toward other aviation programs, he said.
The study "reflects lessons learned and experiences gained in the recent 2 years of combat in the global war on terror as well as the operational environments envisioned in the foreseeable future," Brownlee said in a late- afternoon Pentagon press conference.
He said the study shows that the capabilities the Comanche, an armed reconnaissance helicopter, would bring to the service are not consistent with the most vital needs of Army aviation. According to the review, those needs include upgrading, modernizing and rebuilding the Army's attack, utility and cargo helicopter fleets as well as replacing aging aircraft in the reserve component, Brownlee said.
"Our revised plans for the next several years, out to fiscal year 2011, include the procurement of almost 800 new aircraft for the active and reserve components, and the enhancement, upgrade, modernization and recapitalization of over 1,400 aircraft," he said.
Brownlee said he and Schoomaker began briefing Congress on their plans this morning and will submit an amended budget request for fiscal 2005.
Schoomaker also mentioned that Army leaders had assurances from President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the funds previously allocated for the Comanche will stay within the Army aviation program.
Both Army leaders suggested funds already spent on developing the Comanche won't have been wasted, because the service and the aviation industry have learned a great deal through work on the program.
Brownlee said relevant technologies will be retained in the aviation technological base and will lead to "research and development more applicable to future aviation initiatives." He specifically mentioned the Joint Multirole Helicopter and the Joint Airlift Aircraft programs.
Schoomaker said it's important to not see this as "just about terminating Comanche," but about "fixing Army aviation for the future -- for today and for tomorrow."
The Comanche program's cancellation is going hand in hand with a major plan to restructure the Army's aviation brigades, Brownlee said. Officials plan to standardize aviation brigades throughout the Army and "provide the modularity and flexibility we must have to achieve the joint and expeditionary capabilities that are so essential to the Army's role now and in the future," he said.
"It's a big decision," Schoomaker said. "We know it's a big decision, but it's the right decision."