The Cost of Replacing Today’s Army Aviation Fleet
The annual costs of replacing the Army’s aviation fleet would decline during the 2020s, from about $4 billion in 2018 to about $1.5 billion in 2027, and then rise to a peak of about $4.7 billion in 2032 before drifting downward again.
The U.S. Army has about 4,300 piloted aircraft, most of which are helicopters (also known as rotary-wing aircraft). Three large, high-value fleets—the H-60 Black Hawks, AH-64 Apaches, and H-47 Chinooks—account for most of the helicopters, and their eventual replacement dominates the Army’s future procurement costs. In this report, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the costs of replacing those helicopters and the Army’s other aircraft through 2050 if the service implemented its current plans and, for aircraft with no announced replacement plans, if they were replaced when they reached the end of their typical service life.
- Replacement Costs. CBO projects that the annual cost of replacing the aircraft in the Army’s current fleet would decline during the 2020s, from about $4 billion in 2018 to about $1.5 billion in 2027. It would then rise to a peak of about $4.7 billion in 2032 before drifting downward between 2035 and 2045. Because the Army made considerable investments in aircraft between 2007 and 2016, relatively few aircraft are near the end of their service life, reducing the number of aircraft to be replaced during the 2020s.
- Methods. CBO’s projections are based on publicly articulated procurement plans for some aircraft and, for aircraft without such plans, on their typical retirement age; the projections do not take into account the costs of development, operations and maintenance, modifications, or personnel associated with aircraft.
- Future Vertical Lift Plans. The Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program is developing new technologies to include in aircraft in the late 2020s to early 2030s: the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) for transport and the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) for improved armed reconnaissance capabilities. The FLRAA is expected to replace today’s Black Hawk helicopters, and the FARA may eventually replace today’s Apaches when they are retired.
- Uncertainty. CBO’s estimates are subject to several sources of uncertainty. The characteristics of the two FVL aircraft have not been finalized, and technical challenges could change schedules, characteristics, or costs. Additionally, the Army has recently indicated that it may substantially change or cancel plans to modernize the CH-47F Chinook helicopters that are included in CBO’s projection.