Pentagon to cancel Comanche

Army transformation will change direction again at 4:30 p.m. today, when Defense Department officials announce the termination of the service's RAH-66 Comanche reconnaissance/attack helicopter program, according to DOD and industry officials.

Last July, Office of Management and Budget officials said they would conduct an assessment of the decades-old, $41 billion program for the fiscal 2005 budget. Earlier this month, they said again that they would review Comanche and the Air Force's F/A-22 Raptor jet fighter program.

The Comanche termination marks the second program cancellation under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In 2002, he terminated the Army's $11 billion Crusader automated howitzer program.

Comanche was originally intended to be the Army's next-generation reconnaissance and attack helicopter, and had been slated to start flying in September 2009. As recently as last November, Army officials had decided on a secure communications system for Comanches.

Army acceptance of the cancellation falls in line with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker's plan to make the service a better-equipped, cohesive force. Last October, he announced that soldiers fighting the war on terrorism would get new warfighting systems faster, and earlier this month, he approved a force stabilization management initiative that will let soldiers remain on their initial installation for six to seven years -- well beyond the current three-year average, according to a Feb. 9 Army statement.

Comanche termination paves the way for the Army to start pushing the developmental air-and-maneuver transport program that starred in recent years in the service's annual computer-simulated war game. The tilt-rotor or rotary-winged cargo aircraft would carry the Future Combat System, the service's next-generation fighting force of 18 manned and robotic air and ground systems connected by a fast, secure communications network. Fielding for the system is planned for 2010.

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