That’s right, the Air Force is interested in keeping its nearly 40 year old fleet of UH-1N Hueys flying for another 30 years!
After years of efforts to replace the aging birds with a slightly bigger, newer chopper capably of ferrying security teams around the service’s vast ICBM fields, the Air Force seems to have abandoned hope of replacing the venerable Hueys and is now focused on making them last and fly faster, further and in any conditions.…for a really long time. Can you say budget cuts?
The UH-1N Twin Huey is a nifty little helicopter. But it’s also an OLD helicopter. The AF Huey fleet is due for retirement. The longer you keep a fleet in service, the more expensive they are to maintain. Further, with the Marines converting their -1N fleet to -1Y’s, the size of the fleet across DoD is shrinking. That means supporting them costs more, as there is a certain fairly fixed cost to maintaining a parts and training pipeline for every aircraft. Any economies of scale are lost.
The AF had wanted to buy UH-60s directly from the Army. The AF already operates H-60s. If they replaced their Hueys with H-60s, they could eliminate an entire training and maintenance pipeline. Further, the AF would get to share further economies of scale in parts (and possibly in training) because of the massive Army, Navy and international fleet of H-60 choppers.
My understanding is that some government watchdog group saw the AF plan to buy choppers without a competitive contract and pitched a hissy fit. Look, normally, I’m all for competition. But the DoD acquisition process is so cumbersome, any savings in purchase price would be so completely overwhelmed by the expense of running a competition that we taxpayers would be soaked badly.