The RAH-66 Comanche Comanche is a twin-engine,two-pilot, stealthy armed reconnaissance/attack helicopter. The RAH-66 Comanche intends to feature low observable composite technologies with retractable landing gear and weapons pylon to achieve a low radar cross-section(R CS) and a unique engine exhaust system to suppress its infrared signature. A five-bladed main rotor and a shrouded tail rotor minimize the acoustic and radar signatures.A fly-by-wire flight control system and fully integrated digital avionics assist in piloting the aircraft. The Mission Equipment Package integrates the radar,a forward-looking infrared sensor and an image-intensified television sensor for night flying and target acquisition. The Comanche armament systems are to consist of the Joint Missile/Hellfire Missile, 2.7S-inch aerial rockets,a turreted 2Omm gun, and an air-to-air missile.
The Army intends for RAH-66 Comanche to be a key enabler in achieving the air-ground synergy required for the Army's Future Force. As a component of a Future Force air-ground task force, Comanche units will conduct reconnaissance mobile strike, close combat with ground forces,and vertical maneuver. Comanche's primary role in these operations is to collect and share intelligence information and destroy enemy forces.
The Army received OSD approval for a sixth program restructuring in order to reduce risk and accommodate emerging Future Force requirements in October2 002. The new schedule will add 30 months to Engineering Manufacturing and Development (EMD), establish a blocked acquisition strategy, and reduce the amount of concurrent developmental testing, 'training, and operational testing. The schedule includes a low-rate initial production (LRIP) decision in FY07, delivery of an initial operational capability in FY09, and a full-rate production decision in FY I O.
The RAH-66 Comanche program is a covered system for LFT &E. The latest revision date for the OSD approved LFT &E Strategy is June 2003. This strategy is an integral part of the updated Test and Evaluation Master Plan. The LFT &E Strategy presents a sequential test program.progressing from components to subsystems and. ultimately. to full-up system-level testing. The full-up system-level test article will be a Block I production representative aircraft. In addition. the strategy includes the lethality testing for the new XMI031 2Omm ammunition being developed for the RAH-66
RAH-66 Comanche program actions during FYO3 necessary to implement the restructure include the reorganization of the government-contractor development team and the completion of the system-level critical design review. Major assembly of the first EMD aircraft began in August 2003.
In November 2001, Army officials said they were planning on a heavy variant of the RAH-66 as a replacement for the AH-64D. As part of Army transformation plan, Maj. Gen. John Curran, commander of the Army’s aviation center, said that the Comanche could perform the attack as well as the armed reconnaissance mission in the future. It is unclear whether the RAH-66 could maintain its stealthy profile while carrying external weapons, however, and some questions whether Comanche which currently suffers from weight problems has the power and fuel capacity to take on even more weight.
Following a GAO report critical of the Comanche Program14, the Army proposed in late 2001 to restructure the RAH-66 program. The purpose of the restructuring is reportedly to reduce risk by eliminating some of the “concurrency” that currently exists in the program, as well as to address creeping cost growth and schedule slippage. The Army plan is to reduce the number of helicopters built during the program’s EMD phase. The money that is freed up by this strategy would then be used to conduct additional R&D efforts, especially in software development. The Army claims that by reducing risk now, and increasing production later, the Service could save more than $3 billion.
Observers comment that decreasing the number of RAH-66 EMD aircraft could increase the development price $1.5 to $2 billion and add two years to the schedule, fielding an operational version of the Comanche in 2008 (and potentially 2010) rather than the previously scheduled IOC of 2006.16 In late December 2001 it was reported that top DoD acquisition officials, who must approve the Army’s restructuring plan, were still conducting their review.