Comanche Grounded

Looks like I’m not the only one in the market for work: The Army is canceling the Comanche helicopter program.

The Comanche decision reflects a growing realization in the Pentagon that the military has more big-ticket weapons projects in the works than it can afford, even after seeing the Pentagon budget grow by tens of billions of dollars since 2001. And it the reflects the rising popularity of unmanned aircraft, for surveillance as well as attack missions, in recent years.

The RAH-66 Comanche helicopter project was launched in 1983 and was eventually to cost $38 billion. The Army said it needed a stealthier, more capable armed reconnaissance helicopter to not only collect and distribute battlefield intelligence but also to destroy enemy forces.

I’m afraid the program was the victim of the incredibly long R&D to production cycle. In 1983, I was still in high school, Ronald Reagan was in his first term as president, and nobody had heard of Mikhail Gorbachev. While this will likely cost quite a few folks at Boeing-Sikorsky their jobs, not to mention the taxpayers another $2 billion just to cancel it, it’s likely the right move.

Hat tip: Sean Hackbarth

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul says:

    As a layman who watches military advancements and technology closely, I kinda think that any weapon system that requires a quarter of a century to develop probably has some problems.

  2. dj of raleigh says:

    A manned helicopter for a country who thinks 600 troops killed while defeating two countries a half-a-world away is a disaster, that country must use unmanned craft or mercenaries.

  3. AST says:

    When RPGs are as available as spitwads and AK-47s in the places we’re going to have to fight in, is spending more money on aircraft that can be destroyed by one really a good use of our money?

    You can expect a lot of malice to come from the Pentagon leak-work, congressmen with plants in their districts and retired Army colonels, mostly aimed at Donald Rumsfeld, but maybe this is like Nixon going to China. Only someone who isn’t worried about appearing weak on defense could cut this boondoggle.

    Remember the Crusader (great name for war in the Middle East) artillery system? A lot of the same people are still mad about that cancellation.

  4. IN the great scheme of things, this is really just another manifestation of the defense drawdown of the ’90s. Clinton cut funding such that a lot of procurement programs were pushed back until we got a “procurement bow wave” effect where the deployment dates of a huge number of systems kept getting pushed back and piled on each other. There are two ways out – extra-super-horrendous-monumental defense budgets, or axeing programs right left and center.