Replacements too Pricey for Death-Trap Choppers


Categorie: Air, Iraq, Reality Check |


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.

(Photo: Army)


11 Responses to “Replacements too Pricey for Death-Trap Choppers”

  1. ArtMan says:

    Why not just replace them with drones? Are they needed för Apaches to operate? Upgrade all to latest versions :)

  2. ELP says:

    Yet the ARMY went out of its way to sell off excess Apache helicopters. While the cost to operate per hour is bigger for an Apache, if you want some kind of survivability with a helicopter in trashfire environs, then the Apache is it. It has two guys and payload ability for any kind of sensor you want to put on it.


  3. Starbuck says:

    I feel sorry for the pilots, because the aircraft is getting flown so hard it’s ready to fall apart–Apaches are now picking up the slack. It’s grossly underpowered, yet some units have still attempted to bring them to Afghanistan (with poor results). Their flight profile isn’t envious, either. They do have the advantage that they can operate low to the ground near the enemy, and nothing beats a set of human eyes, but there might come a point where there’s diminishing returns in an aircraft that’s outlived its life cycle.

    When I was going through flight school in 2002-2003, the selling point for the OH-58D (sometimes called the “lawnmower” for its small engine) was that we’d soon be getting the Comanche. Then, as a captain, they were told they’d be getting the ARH. Oops, the party line is 0 for 2.

    I agree that an OH-6 modification (possibly a 2-engine NOTAR design) would be best for this mission–it’s a great, proven off-the-shelf design.

  4. James says:

    ELP has got it right! The British Army Air Corp does not have a scout helo in service anymore (Gazelle has been retired from front line service). As a result th Apache using the Longbow radar is better than any scout chopper available on the market today.

    Agree running costs are higher but when mission performance and survivability is better it’s an obvious choice.

    The AAC has proven time and time again the Apache using the Longbow radar flushes out 99.9% of the bacteria in Afghanistan.

  5. FooMan says:

    During the era of king (oops I mean President Ronnie’s) era of the “600 ship Navy” we dumped our vintage SH-2F into the water off the coast of San Diego. It had been built with one engine and four rotor blades as an S-2B and crashed after two ‘upgrades’ as a LAMPS SH2-F that was older that the pilot operating it! Nice to see we’ve learned so much.

  6. soonergrunt says:

    And perhaps monkeys will fly out of my ass next time I’m in Afghanistan. We can give them M-4s and use them for this mission.
    The Air Force sees its sister services as its primary peer-competitor threat.

  7. kiowapilot says:

    @ELP – Apaches and Kiowas perform different missions. That is like replacing a semi truck with a sports car. Different capabilities and mission sets.

    @Starbuck – With poor results? Seriously? The OH-58D has performed admirably and very effectively in Afghanistan because its pilots are used to power management. You are not a Kiowa pilot so your opinion on what suits the mission profile does not really hold any weight.

    @James – Apache with radar is better than any scout chopper? Really? Go put yourself in a convoy and drive a route that has been reconned for IEDs from 5km away by an Apache site, let me know how warm and fuzzy you feel. I would much rather run a route that a Kiowa had flown down with 4 sets of eye balls.

    Bottom Line: The platform of the OH-58D may be getting outdated, but replacing it with an attack platform or unmanned aerial vehicle will wipe out a battlefield capability that is consistently relied upon by our ground commanders. Are we pilots at risk? Absolultely. But I would rather go home in a box than have a single ground Troop hit by an IED or an ambush. I will fly low to provide better recon, and I will fly to the enemy to direct his fire off the ground element. In an OH-58D or an OH-6, I can see and be an interactive member of the battlefield, to an extent unparallelled in any other airframe.

    Scouts Out.

  8. dude says:

    I’m not sure how I wound up here but I can say this site is a invaluable source of moronic observations and expert advice good for a laughter after a hard days flying. Funny thing is that I’m in Afghanistan right now flying the lawnmower as some call it and I can tell you by first hand account that it is the most demanded asset in theater hands down. To date, or ever for that matter, no Apaches have ever picked up any slack for me, it’s actually been quite the other way around. The Longbow radar however, is so frigging awesome that I heard soon we’re all going home. Apaches are going to kill all insurgents that appear as a blinking dot on their Longbow radar screen from a hover above the base with insurgent homing missiles. As far a grossly underpowered, well yeah it’s lacking in that area some however, considering that the Army only sends their best and bravest to fly OH-58D they somehow manage to fly places no one ever thought they could by shear tenacity and piloting skills. So in summary don’t be so quick to give your expert opinion when you have no idea what you are talking about. That little choppa that could accounts for half of all rotary wing hours flown during these wars.

  9. David Axe says:


    Your views are highly welcome, particularly considering your frontline experience. But play nice. This is a forum for adults. We don’t call people names.

  10. KW says:

    WOW I’m lost for words. First of all I am a Kiowa pilot and have been for over ten years. I have done 2 tours in Iraq and One in Afghanistan. This Kiowa best aircraft in the Army aircraft it is safe and reliable. The pilots who fly them are the best pilots in the any of the services. We will get into the fight with the infantry and never leave stay until the end. UAV’s could never replace the experience of an old scout pilot. Just ask yourself would you rather have some private looking at a TV screen clueless how to conduct reconnaissance. Or a scout pilot on station with a sense of what the daily norm is and can lay down the law when called upon. So to retire my aircraft and to say we are under powered and produce little results. I beg to differ. Do some performance planning for the Kiowa sometime. I can fly higher than Apache and do a much better job at reconnaissance. Bet you ask any ground commander who would they rather have on station guarantee 9 out of 10 will say the Kiowa. Now dont get me wrong the Apache is an impressive machine and has its purpose but the red army is gone.

  11. Cav says:

    Longbow?!! Are you kidding me? Look I got nothing but love for my brothers in the Apache, but finding bad guys aint their thing. I will take whatever aircraft the uncle gives me but this “old lawnmower” can fly anywhere the ground forces go, then some. The Cav pilots always make it happen, even when the apache apologists place arbitrary operational restrictions on it the Kiowa and her crews somehow always manage find bad guys where there aren’t supposed to be any. They fly in environs where, apparently, single engine helos are supposed to spontaneously combust. They are the most responsive airframe to the changing demands of supported ground units. No one does Air Ground Interaction better than the Cav, Not the SOAR, not the Air Force or Marines, and certainly not the vaunted Apache.

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