The Kiowa has played an important reconnaissance and supporting role for the ground troops, Apache Attack helicopters, and commanders on the ground over the past 40+ years when it was initially produced in 1969. The helicopter continued to be fielded until 1989, then it began a series of upgrades to keep it modern. The military brass is looking for a more modern air frame that can handle the support requirements of the Army, while trying to cut costs due to the declining budgets and lack of overseas combat missions.
The OH-58D’s being decommissioned will go to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, AZ where they will either be scrapped, stored, or prepped for sale to civilian law enforcement for local and state support roles. Each Kiowa Warrior cost the Army roughly $5-$6 million initially, and $1.2 million to retrofit with upgrades. Over the years, the maintenance costs from personnel, storage, and parts has been very expensive as well. The true cost to maintain the fleet will never be known, but each helicopter would easily be in the millions over the lifetime of its use. It is also important to note that maintaining a Kiowa is vastly less in cost than maintaining the advanced AH-64D Apache.
The first Eurocopter UH-72 Lakotas entered production in 2006 with 300 being made initially. More are on the way and will eventually replace all OH-58Ds for the light scout role, but that is potentially several years out and there is nothing set in stone yet. The AH64-D and AH-64E are the Army’s main attack helicopters, which can also perform a scouting role. So the Army has opted to let the Apache “sub in” for the Kiowa until more Lakotas or another variant can be produced on a larger scale.
The Kiowas at Fort Rucker, AL (the Army’s main training base for helicopters) are being replaced by Lakotas right now.
Overall, it does not sound like a good plan. Why would the Army get rid of an entire fleet of helicopters that cost around $5 million and replace their role with an attack helicopter that costs $35 million? Sure there are Lakotas that can help fill the gap, but there are only 300 Lakotas and those can only fill so many gaps of the nearly 2,200 Kiowas that are being phased out. The downsize is premature and a lot of good pilots are having to relearn different air frames. The Army’s primary scout capability via air is non-existent. Sure you can use drones to help fill the gap, but it just isn’t the same as a Kiowa with a rocket or hell fire package that can change the entire battle with one Kiowa team.
Just look at any scenario where there were Apaches needed to help ground troops – they were not always available. With an asymmetric battlefield and troops in contact in many places in the same day all over the battlefield, the Army needs a light scouting capability via air. With Kiowas, you can send 7 Kiowas for the price of 1 Apache. The Army scrapped the RAH-66 Comanche several years ago, causing even more upheaval in the air requirements. And with congress talking about scrapping the A-10 Warthog, the Air Force’s ground support aircraft, the forecast does not look good.
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