Monday, February 23, 2004

The Pentagon announced yesterday that it is canceling the Army’s program to build a new helicopter after spending about $7 billion in development costs.

The cancellation of the Comanche helicopter is the second major Army weapons system killed by the Bush administration. The Crusader mobile artillery gun was halted in 2002 after $2 billion was spent on it.

Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, Army chief of staff, said the cancellation involved losing money but will save $39 billion by not buying an aircraft ill-suited for current missile threats.

“I would ask then the question: Is it prudent for us as an Army or for the taxpayer that we spend $39 billion on something that’s not a good idea in the current context?” Gen. Schoomaker said during a Pentagon press conference.

The helicopter, under development since 1983, is not designed for threats from newer types of high-technology, antiaircraft missiles and antiaircraft artillery, Army officials said.

“To have Comanche survivable and to do the kinds of things we’d have to do in the current threat environment, we have to add things to Comanche, which takes away from its primary stealth capability and also requires an investment of several billion dollars to do that,” Gen. Schoomaker said.

Army Lt. Gen. Richard A. Cody, the deputy chief of staff for operations and plans, said the money saved from the program will be spent buying existing helicopters, including the mainstay UH-60 Black Hawk, the AH-64 Apache Longbow and others.

Gen. Cody said $6.9 billion had been spent on the Comanche.

The cost of canceling the program is estimated by Army officials to be as much as $680 million.

The administration is seeking to save money as it reshapes the military for what it views as 21st-century military operations, ranging from counterterrorism to ousting rogue regimes.

The aircraft was being built as part of a joint venture between Boeing, based in Chicago, and Sikorsky Aircraft, in Stratford, Conn. It was scrapped as part of an Army reform effort undertaken by Gen. Schoomaker.

The cancellation was not expected. President Bush’s most recent budget request to Congress included $1.2 billion for fiscal 2005 for the Comanche. The first helicopters had been set for deployment in 2009.

The Comanche program experienced cost overruns and missed schedules. It was restructured six times, most recently in 2002, when purchasing plans were cut nearly in half to 650 helicopters.

Gen. Schoomaker, a former Special Forces commando, is in the process of a major restructuring of Army forces.

According to Army documents obtained by The Washington Times, Gen. Schoomaker plans to restructure the current 10 active-duty Army divisions. The 33 total brigades of those divisions will be increased to 48 brigades, but will operate in smaller units.

The first change will be to transform the 3rd Infantry Division into five “maneuver units of action” that are combat-ready and trained for deployment to Iraq or other missions, according to the documents.

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