ARLINGTON, Va., March 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. Army is starting equipment upgrade modifications to its Bell OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters, Army officials said.
The effort is to build a new, high-tech "F" model helicopter designed with improved avionics, better sensors and stepped-up overall performance capability.
The first "F" model flight is slated for next year, said Army Lt. Col. Scott Rauer, product manager, Kiowa Warrior. Overall, the Army plans to acquire 368 "F" model OH-58s, an aircraft that includes a series of technical upgrades and changes to the "D" model.
The "F" model Kiowa upgrade, which will ensure the aircraft's service life through 2025, includes upgrades being performed by an Army government design house at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., and a handful of its industry partners, including Bell Helicopter, Honeywell and Rolls-Royce.
Improvements center on a Cockpit and Sensor Upgrade Program, which improves the sensors and moves them to the nose of the aircraft, Rauer said.
The new sensor -- called the AAS-53 Common Sensor Payload -- includes cutting-edge sensing technologies such as an advanced infrared camera, a color electro-optical camera and an image intensifier similar to what is used by night-vision goggles.
The sensors are engineered to work together with laser designators and image trackers to pinpoint targets on the battlefield.
"This is a major leap ahead in situational awareness for the crew. The Common Sensor Payload does bring fusion technology where it can merge imagery. With this sensor, you can fuse imagery together to get the best picture," Rauer said.