The US Army's new cockpit and sensor upgrade programme (CASUP) modernised OH-58F Kiowa Warrior armed reconnaissance helicopter has conducted its first ceremonial test flight at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama.
Designed to address obsolescence issues in the aircraft and its sensor capabilities, the CASUP programme converts the existing OH-58D Kiowa Warriors into OH-58F models, which represents a major modernisation to the helicopter in the last 20 years.
A significant change is the relocation of the helicopter's mast-mounted sensor payload, featuring improved optics, infrared sensor, laser pointer and laser spot tracker, to the front to help pilots better acquire targets in challenging conditions.
Kiowa Warrior Training and Doctrine Command capability manager colonel John Lynch said the decision, which leaves aircraft slightly more exposed to threats, follows consideration of operations conducted over the past 12 years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"With the linkages that are provided through communications, through manned-unmanned teaming in the current generation of aircraft as opposed to the original OH-58D in the late 1980s, and teaming with other aircraft such as the AH-64 Apache, we believe we will be able to overcome that risk and still perform the mission in major combat operation-type environment," Lynch said.
Weighing 160lb lighter than the D model, the OH-58F helicopters feature a new digital cockpit that can be customised to display mission related information, doubled processing speed, as well as separate map and data viewing capability for the pilot and co-pilot.
Meanwhile, the Redstone Arsenal has already started production of Prototype Qualification 1 OH-58F, as the army is awaiting a decision to either pursue Kiowa Warrior replacement programme, called Armed Aerial Scout (AAS), or overhaul the helicopter with a service life extension programme (SLEP).
If approved, the SLEP programme will cover production of a total of 368 OH-58F Kiowa Warriors from 2017 to 2025.
Image: The US Army's new CASUP-updated OH-58F Kiowa Warrior helicopter during its first flight at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. Photo: courtesy of Denise DeMonia.