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Still 2 years away, Minot Air Force Base prepares for new helicopters

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. — It’s still a ways off yet but Minot Air Force Base is getting ready for the Air Force’s new MH-139A “Grey Wolf” helicopters to replace the Vietnam-era UH-1N Huey helicopters.

Helicopters are used to guard the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missile fields around Minot AFB, F.E. Warren AFB in Wyoming and Malmstrom AFB in Montana.

Lt. Col. David Dammeier, commander of the 5th Civil Engineer Squadron at Minot AFB, told members of the Minot Area Chamber EDC’s Military Affairs Committee during a recent Zoom military briefing that the Helicopter Operations and Tactical Response Force facility is an $80 million to $90 million military construction project.

“This is a large facility that will house helo pilots and response personnel under one roof to produce reduced response times to the missile complex,” Dammeier said.

“It will also house the newest (helicopter), the Grey Wolf, when it comes on line,” he said.

It is a nine-bay facility to house the base’s 54th Helicopter Squadron’s new MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopters and 91st Security Forces Group’s tactical response force.

Dammeier said the estimated award date for the construction project is this summer, the Minot Daily News reported.

In addition to Minot AFB, F.E. Warren AFB and Malmstrom AFB will be getting the new helicopters. Minot AFB is expected to receive 11 new helicopters during the course of the change-over.

Capt. Christina Camp of Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, said the Air Force is conducting an environmental impact analysis before making its final basing decision in the winter of 2021 “The first aircraft are schedule to arrive in 2023,” she said.

Earlier, in November 2020, Sen. John Hoeven, a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, announced in a news release the Air Force had confirmed that Minot AFB will host MH-139 Grey Wolf helicopters with an expected delivery date in 2026 and the new helicopter facility is expected to take about two years to build.

The MH-139A Grey Wolf was unveiled and named during the ceremony at Duke Field, Fla., Dec. 19, 2019. (Samuel King Jr./Air Force)
The MH-139A Grey Wolf was unveiled and named during the ceremony at Duke Field, Fla., Dec. 19, 2019. (Samuel King Jr./Air Force)

The MH-139 Grey Wolf was unveiled and named at a ceremony held at Duke Field, Florida, on Dec. 19, 2019. The aircraft has capability improvements related to speed, range, endurance and payload.

The name “Grey Wolf” is derived from the wild species that roams the northern tier of North America, which also encompasses the intercontinental ballistic missile bases in Air Force Global Strike Command, according to command information.

In September 2019, the Air Force selected Boeing Co. to build the replacement for its UH-1N helicopter, at a cost of about $2.38 billion. The award contract stipulated about $375 million for the first four MH-139 helicopters, manufactured in partnership with Leonardo-Finmeccanica, and includes equipment integration. The aircraft is based on the AW-139, Leonardo’s commercial version of the helicopter.

“The test schedule for this winter includes continuation of testing for Supplemental Type Certificates and specification verification, as well as analysis of aircraft handling qualities and preparations for testing of aircraft weapons and defensive systems,” Camp said.

She said four MH-139s have been built and are taking part in the integrated test program.

The Air Force plans to purchase eight helicopters in the first Low Rate Initial Production lot in fiscal year 2021 per the unit cost and gross weapon system cost documented in the fiscal year President’s Budget request, Camp said.

Military communications, navigation and mission systems additions, interior modifications, and performance enhancements are the significant changes to the AW-139 to transform it into the MH-139A Grey Wolf, Camp said. The various stages of activity or certifications are expected to be completed this year.

Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center’s Initial Operational Test and Evaluation is slated to occur at Malmstrom AFB in 2023, Camp said.

She said there are currently four MH-139As supporting testing in both the contractor facility in Philadelphia and at Duke Field in Florida.

“As the amount of testing in Philadelphia winds down, the aircraft are planned to transition to Duke as their primary location. The third MH-139A was ferried to Duke in December 2020. The fourth MH-139A is scheduled to transition to Duke in May 2021, although we fully expect aircraft will cycle between locations due to the different capabilities at the two facilities required to meet future test requirements,” Camp said.

The Air Force will procure up to 84 MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopters, training devices and associated support equipment from Boeing, according to Air Force Global Strike Command.

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