The Army’s OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout chopper was always a compromise aircraft. Too small, under-powered and under-armored for its mission, Kiowa Warriors have struggled to survive murderous ground fire and unforgiving weather conditions in Iraq. Eighteen of the old choppers were shot down in just the first two years of the war. Today, as a result, the Army is short dozens of Kiowa Warriors for its scout units.
The ARH-70, built by Bell, was supposed to replace the Kiowa, but due to delays and cost overruns, the Army killed off the new bird last year. Now, with money short, the Army has reportedly decided to upgrade the Kiowa Warrior instead of replacing it. The ancient choppers are expected to last at least another decade. Kiowas are getting better engines and controls, and some Vietnam-era OH-58s — A and C models — might be rebuilt into D models to replace those lost in combat.
I’m normally a proponent of incremental improvements and upgrades to weapons, versus expensive replacement programs. But the Kiowa was too old and too vulnerable five years ago, and I have serious doubts about the basic design’s potential for improvement. This chopper has already killed too many aviators. It’s time to ground it, for good. Perhaps the Air Force can be persuaded to forgo a wing of F-35s, so that we can afford to buy 400 new OH-6s to replace the OH-58 death-traps.