Case Overview, Authorization and Funding for Upgrades to the CH-47 Chinook Helicopter

This document provides background information and summarizes the debate over upgrades to the CH-47 Chinook Helicopter. The links to the left will lead you to public documents that we have found.

           The Chinook helicopter, manufactured by Boeing, was introduced into the armed services in 1962 and has been widely used by the military in both peacetime and war. It continues in use today. The Chinook is a cargo craft, used to haul either material or troops. As one observer noted, "it's really the truck that gets the Army from point A to point B. It carries all the heavy stuff. It lifts all their Howitzers and whatever." Its capacity is impressive: in some configurations it can carry 25,000 pounds of goods; or it can carry 33 fully equipped soldiers. In the heat of battle it can also airlift 24 stretchers of wounded soldiers from the battlefield to a field hospital. The 51-foot craft has twin engines and twin rotors.

           The high degree of satisfaction with the Chinook's performance led the Pentagon to upgrade the CH-47 rather than replace it. In the early 1980s the existing helicopters were remanufactured and then put back into service. Remanufacturing is a process whereby the innards of the craft are removed, leaving the frame and little more. Modern hydraulics, a more modern cockpit, and more modern communications equipment were all installed. New, more powerful engines were also put into the refurbished craft.

           Since the second generation of Chinooks was put into service, innovations in avionics and new demands on the helicopters led, incrementally, to various pieces of equipment being added to each craft. As a result said one expert, "it couldn't lift as much as it used to be able to lift." By the late 1990's it became clear that the aircraft would have to be either replaced or upgraded. Again, the military's choice was to remanufacture the fleet instead of producing a whole new helicopter from scratch. Once it made its decision, the Pentagon then had to sell the idea to Congress so the necessary funds could be appropriated.

           This turned out to be a relatively easy sale as no substantial opposition emerged against a third generation Chinook. At the same time there is considerable competition for the limited dollars to fund new military weapons, planes, and ships. Thus the firms that would provide the products or services needed for the remanufacturing project began to lobby the Congress for the funds to carry out the project. Initial money was forthcoming but stiff competition remained. In 1999, at the time of our interviews, the firms were working hard to obtain their annual funding at the level they desired. The Chinook upgrade hadn't yet become a top priority for the Army. One lobbyist explained, "Within the Army bureaucracy this did not bubble up to being a key issue, so consequently it did not become a key issue for their legislative liaison types." Nevertheless, the Army remained committed to its workhorse helicopter and in subsequent Congresses, funding has continued for development of a new generation Chinook.