When President Barack Obama decided to increase U.S. troop strength by 30,000 in Afghanistan – a process to be completed by late autumn – the U.S. Army found itself re-evaluating its aviation plan and pondering new challenges to its fleet of aging helicopters. Those challenges increased when an earthquake ravaged the Caribbean nation of Haiti on Jan. 12.

“The current Army aviation modernization plan, as proposed through fiscal year 2010, includes a combination of procuring and upgrading existing aviation systems, developing new systems, and buying off-the-shelf equipment,” the Government Accountability Office reported in September 2009.

Two key issues are on the minds of helicopter soldiers – accomplishing build-ups in Afghanistan and Haiti without any immediate increase in helicopter inventories, and defining the future of the light attack mission performed by the OH-58D(R) Kiowa Warrior.

“We carry out air assault and medical evacuation missions,” said Lt. Col. James E. Hostetler, an Army spokesman, referring to Afghanistan. “A large part of our duty consists of simply hauling people and equipment around the country.” Vertical lift offers a way to defeat the improvised explosive devices (IEDs), or roadside bombs, insurgents are planting on Afghanistan’s few passable roads.

The Army has kept three to four Combat Aviation Brigades (CABs) in Iraq, a country just two-thirds the size of Afghanistan, but maintained only one in Afghanistan until recently. The Army has 19 CABs, including eight operated by the National Guard and one in the Army Reserve. A “heavy” CAB comprises four battalions with 100 helicopters, including 48 AH-64D Apaches, 38 UH-60M Black Hawks, 12 HH-60M Black Hawks and 12 CH-47F Chinooks.

Notorious for its mountain elevations and scattered special operations outposts, Afghanistan has always tested military helicopters. Only the twin-tandem Chinook has consistently coped with seasonal winds and “high and hot” conditions in the Hindu Kush.

Read the rest of Robert F. Dorr’s article at The Year in Defense.

Up Next

Barrett Model 98B wins the 2010 American Rifleman Rifle of the Year award.

When President Barack Obama decided to increase U.S. troop strength by 30,000 in Afghanistan…