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Army cancels Comanche helicopter

Will shift money into other aviation programs

The Comanche has been a target of critics who say it was an expensive mistake.
The Comanche has been a target of critics who say it was an expensive mistake.

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The Army cancels its Comanche helicopter program, a multibillion-dollar project to build a new armed-reconnaissance chopper. CNN's Jamie McIntyre reports
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U.S. Army
National Guard

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Army has decided to pull the plug on the development of the RAH-66 Comanche helicopter and instead use the money to upgrade its current fleet and replace aging National Guard and Army Reserve helicopters, Pentagon officials said Monday.

The military has already spent $6.9 billion over the last two decades to develop the Comanche, conceived as a surveillance and attack aircraft with "stealth" capability to make it difficult for an enemy to detect. But only two prototypes have ever been built, and the high-tech chopper was still at least two years away from regular production.

"It's a big decision. We know it's a big decision, but it's the right decision," said Army Chief-of-Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, who said the program was scrapped after an internal study showed the money could be better used to improve other aspects of Army aviation.

Schoomaker said the Pentagon was budgeted to spend $14 billion between now and 2011 to build 121 Comanches. Now, that money will be directed to upgrading more than 1,400 aircraft and buying almost 800 new helicopters for the Guard and Reserve.

Schoomaker also insisted that the money spent on developing the Comanche was not wasted because the technology could be adapted for use on other aircraft.

"Much of what we've gained out of Comanche we can push forward into the tech base for future joint rotor-craft kinds of capabilities, as we look further out," Schoomaker said.

Pentagon officials also said the Comanche, conceived in 1983 during the Cold War, was a victim of changing needs as the military's focus has shifted to the war on terrorism.

"If you look at the operational environment in which we're now operating and the one we think we'll be operating in the future, we think that is not where we should put our focus," said Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee.

Schoomaker also said keeping the Comanche "survivable" in the current threat environment would require design changes that would cost "several billion dollars" and erode the chopper's stealth capability, one of the primary reasons for developing the aircraft.

He said the decision to end Comanche came from inside the Army, not from above, and he said President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have both given assurances that the money saved will be dedicated to other Army aviation programs.

The Comanche was being designed and built as a joint project by Boeing Co. and Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, employing about 1,300 people. The companies issued a joint statement saying they were "surprised and disappointed" by the Army's decision.

"Five of these advanced technology aircraft are on the production line today, and we are on plan for the program," the statement said. "While we regret the Army's announcement, we are committed to working closely with our customer and will engage in further discussions to ensure we have a complete understanding of the next steps for Comanche."

The helicopters were being built at a plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

CNN Pentagon producer Mike Mount contributed to this report.

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