A few years back, the Pentagon committed to an important upgrade of our military’s heavy-lift helicopter, the CH-47F Chinook. That was a smart decision as it kept costs under control while upgrading – in impressive ways – a proven and battle-tested workhorse.
While the helicopter’s distinctive look on the outside hasn’t changed, it is so much more advanced on the inside, with a list of new systems and capabilities that will keep it relevant for the next 40 years.
As the most capable heavy-lift helicopter on the planet, special operators who fly the most dangerous and demanding missions in the Army swear by the Chinook and trust their lives in it.
But over the years, the United States military has developed important weapons systems needed by our warfighters that are heavier than the old Chinook’s lift capacity. These new systems and equipment may need to be lifted into, or out of, battle space – one of the helicopter’s primary duties – so an updated version was planned and engineered.
The result was an effectively brand-new helicopter that will be able to do it all. It can fly farther, faster, higher and in more adverse weather all while lifting more than ever before (10 tons of supplies and equipment) — all at a comparatively low cost.
Simply stated, these upgrades cost a fraction of starting over and developing a new heavy lift helicopter from scratch and they give the U.S. military a new Chinook that can serve its needs for decades to come.
While the special operations variant is being updated, the Army’s variant also needs the same support.
If we don’t update the Army’s Chinook fleet, the military won’t be able to rapidly deploy new equipment to our warfighters and they will have to operate with lower ceilings and lower lift capacity.
Imagine being pinned down and needing support and not being able to get the tools you need because we chose not to update and upgrade our heavy lift helicopter. It makes no sense to tie the hands of future battle commanders or to endanger the lives of soldiers on the front lines by skipping this upgrade.
Yet, it appears that is precisely what the Pentagon is planning to do. Despite having planned to update the Chinook and having a path that is both financially supportable and makes the helicopter an impressive tool for another four decades, the Pentagon has zeroed out the Chinook upgrade program and appears poised to just use the aging fleet for another 40 years. That isn’t practical, realistic or wise.
Our fighting men and women deserve better than this and the American taxpayers deserve better as well. It also is dangerous to simply shut down the production of a platform that will be needed for the next 40 years.
Not only will thousands of high paying high tech manufacturing jobs be killed in the process, but the taxpayer will pay through the nose when the problems created by this shortsighted decision eventually need to be resolved.
Simply put, if the Pentagon opts to start over and develop a new heavy lift helicopter from scratch, the military could have another budget busting project on its hands that doesn’t outperform the upgraded Chinook.
On top of that, it would leave our troops in a real fix for another decade or longer while that development takes place.
Furthermore, if the military eventually opts to re-start the production of the Chinook and fire-up the production lines after having closed them down, it will have needlessly delayed the upgrades to our warfighters and added substantial costs to the taxpayer. Perhaps the Pentagon is trying to save a few bucks in the near term, but that will most likely guarantee significant costs down the road on a future fix for this temporary, shortsighted policy.
Congress has typically been very supportive of the Pentagon’s Chinook upgrade plans and is actually demonstrating rare bipartisan support for continuing the modernization program. For now, it appears it will take legislative action to make sure that the Chinook gets the planned upgrades that our warfighters need and that the American taxpayer deserves, absent any change in policy from the Pentagon.
Historically, the U.S. is almost always wrong in predicting where the next conflict will be. Our military needs a helicopter that can effectively operate across the spectrum of battlefield requirements now – not 10 or 15 years from now.
With China acting increasingly provocative, and Russia attempting to regain its prior military status, now is not the time to skip on upgrading America’s heavy lift helicopter. The Army needs to make the rational, reasonable, and cost-effective decision.