The U.S. Army is beginning mission equipment upgrade modifications to its fleet of Bell OH-58 Kiowa Warrior scout aircraft to build a new, high-tech “F” model helicopter. The OH-58 is configured with Level 2 Manned-Unmanned teaming, or L2MUM – which means that the pilots in the cockpit can view feeds from nearby unmanned aircraft systems in real time.
The new models will be designed with improved avionics, better sensors and stepped-up overall performance capability, service officials said. The first “F” model flight is slated for next year, said Lt. Col. Scott Rauer, product manager, Kiowa Warrior. Overall, the Army plans to acquire 368 “F” model OH-58s, an aircraft which comes to life through a series of technical upgrades and changes to the current “D” model Kiowa.
Today, 94 Kiowa Warrior scout helicopters have been busily performing a range of crucial missions in Iraq and Afghanistan to include light attack missions, general reconnaissance, improvised explosive device detection and convoy escort missions, Rauer said. “It’s the highest demand rotary-wing aircraft in Army aviation. It flies more than 90 hours a month; about seven times the normal usage rate,” he added. The “F” model Kiowa upgrade, which will ensure the aircraft’s service life through 2025, includes a host of technical upgrades being performed by an Army government design house at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., and a handful of its industry partners to include Bell Helicopter, Honeywell and Rolls Royce.
The thrust of the improvements centre around a Cockpit and Sensor Upgrade Program, or CASUP, which improves the sensors and moves them to the nose of the aircraft, Rauer explained. The new sensor, called the AAS-53 Common Sensor Payload, includes cutting-edge sensing technologies such as an advanced infrared camera, a colour Electro-Optical camera and an image intensifier similar to what is used by Night Vision goggles. The sensors are engineered to work together with laser designators and image trackers to pinpoint targets on the battlefield.
“This is a major leap ahead in situational awareness for the crew. The Common Sensor Payload does bring fusion technology where it can merge imagery. With this sensor, you can fuse imagery together to get the best picture,” Rauer said. Moving the sensor to the nose, which involves removing the mast-mounted sight, which currently stands on top of the “D” model Kiowa, requires the transmission mounting structures to be redesigned, Rauer explained. “You’ve got to be able to pass the rotor vibrations cleanly to the rest of the aircraft,” he said.
The “F” model Kiowa will be outfitted with next-generation cockpit technologies called Control and Display Subsystem, version 5. “This brings advanced processing power, more memory and throughput, full color graphics, and dual-independent advanced moving maps,” Rauer explained.
The improved cockpit avionics include an increased capacity to store and process key digital information. The aircraft will also be built with a dual-channel full-authority digital engine-controller to ensure the engine operates at its required power level regardless of the environment and the various demands placed on the aircraft.