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U.S. Special Operations Command has ordered another nine Block II versions of its specialized Chinook helicopter from Boeing for $265 million.
Boeing now has 24 MH-47G Chinooks on contract with Army Special Operations Aviation Command. The helicopters will be assembled at Boeing’s Philadelphia plant with the first delivery scheduled in the “coming months,” according to a company spokesperson.
“The G-Model is a critical asset for the Army, our nation, and the defense industrial base,” said Andy Builta, Boeing vice president and H-47 program manager. “We’re honored that the Army’s special operators trust us to deliver it.”
Block II introduces a lighter, more structurally rigid airframe, a beefed-up drivetrain and Boeing’s advanced composite rotor blades (ACRBs) designed to provide a 1,500-pound (680-kilogram) increase in lift. Three engineering and manufacturing development CH-47F Block II aircraft are in flight test at Boeing’s Mesa, Arizona, facility.
While Special Operations aviation units are on board with the Block II configuration, the Army has thus far balked at upgrading its 400-plus CH-47Fs to the beefed up variant.
In its spending plans for both fiscal years 2020 and 2021, the Army eliminated funding for the program. The service plans to upgrade 73 MH-47G Chinooks for U.S. Special Operations Command but not 465 conventional force F-model Chinooks to Block II configuration.
As it did in the current fiscal year, Congress has again come to Boeing’s aid by boosting approved funds for advanced procurement of CH-47F Block II long-lead materials and buying the first aircraft upgrades.
The U.S. House of Representatives on July 31 passed its version of the defense budget, which includes nearly $200 million for the first five Block II CH-47Fs.
House appropriators codified their concern “with the Army’s lack of support for the CH-47F Block II program,” in their version of the bill. “The Chief of Staff of the Army certified the need for this capability less than three years ago and the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2020 outlined certain expectations for future CH-47F Block II funding.”
The Appropriations Act included an additional $198 million for the first five F Block II aircraft in fiscal year 2021, which begins Oct. 1 and an additional $29 million in advanced procurement to enable the second lot of five F Block II aircraft in fiscal year 2022.
The House “expects the Secretary of the Army to restore funding for the CH-47F Block II program across the next future year’s defense program when the fiscal year 2022 budget request is submitted.”
Boeing is concerned for future viability of the Chinook production line in Philadelphia should the Army opt out of upgrading its F-model fleet to Block II configuration. The company employs 4,600 people at the plant, where it also produces V-22 Osprey fuselages and finalizes militarization of the MH-139 Grey Wolf for the U.S. Air Force.
The Army argues it can perform its heavy-lift mission with the current CH-47F until a next-generation replacement comes online beyond the 2030s, stoking concerns that Boeing’s Philadelphia production line could wither without new work.
Boeing has focused on foreign military sales to breath new life into the production line. The CH-47 is currently going head-to-head against the Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion to be the next heavy-lift helicopter for both Germany and Israel.