USAF Upgraded Hueys to Address Operational Risk as Replacement Program Slows

UH-1N Huey number 6648 hits the 18,000 hour flight mark Fairchild AFB, Wash, Jan. 11, 2018. USAF photo by SrA. Sean Campbell.

Air Force Global Strike Command has provided fuel and armament system changes to current UH-1N Huey helicopters in use in the service’s missile fields to help the aging aircraft do its job as the replacement program continues to languish in source selection and a Government Accountability Office protest, the head of US Strategic Command said Tuesday.

The Air Force is in the middle of source selection of the UH-1N Huey Replacement program, but Sikorsky has filed a pre-award protest with the Government Accountability Office on the selection process. STRATCOM boss USAF Gen. John Hyten told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that his “frustration” with the program “won’t go away.” He said he has been working to “try to get a helicopter in the hands of the folks at the missile fields for more than a decade.”

Hyten, speaking before the panel last year, expressed intense frustration with the program by saying “it’s a helicopter for gosh sakes. We’ve been building combat helicopters for decades. … I don’t understand why the heck it is so difficult.”

Some good news has happened since then, with USAF and Pentagon leadership showing interest in the program and moving it forward. Within the past year or so, AFGSC has “put a number of adjustments” into the Huey fleet, which focused on a shortfall in the Huey’s capability to fly protective over watch of the movement of nuclear weapons. However, Hyten said he couldn’t address the specifics of the changes in the unclassified hearing. The Air Force’s Fiscal 2019 budget includes $8.8 million for a service life extension program for the aircraft.

Much of his frustration at the hearing last year stemmed from this shortfall, and since then the risk has “really been eliminated in the short term,” Hyten said, adding that he wants to be able to give a date for a contract award, hoping that it is soon, but he can’t because of the protest.