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Army to cut copter fleet by 1,000

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WASHINGTON — The Army is accelerating the retirement of its Vietnam-era attack and utility helicopters and will use the savings to improve the readiness of the remaining fleet.

The Army will retire about 400 helicopters from the active-duty force and about 600 from the National Guard and Army Reserve, Brig. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said Friday.

All AH-1 Cobra helicopters will be out of the force by the end of this year and all UH-1 Hueys will be gone by 2004, he said. They are the oldest, least reliable and most expensive to maintain, he said. The Hueys are being retired six years earlier that previously planned.

Odierno said some details are yet to be worked out, including an estimate of how much money the Army expects to save by reducing the total fleet from 4,500 helicopters to 3,500.

By the end of 2004, the fleet will consist of four types: the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, the UH-60 Blackhawk utility chopper, the OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter and CH-47 Chinooks, used for airlift missions.

The Army also will restructure its aviation units so that National Guard and Reserve units will focus mainly on airlift missions, and the active duty force will focus mainly on attack missions, Odierno said.

"These adjustments will improve our posture as a warfighting force," said Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff.

Some Apaches will be shifted from the active-duty force to the Guard and Reserve, Odierno said.

Odierno said the savings from eliminating hundreds of helicopters will be used to modernize the remaining fleet and to accelerate the timetable for buying the new-generation Comanche reconnaissance helicopter. He said details of the Comanche procurement plan are still being worked out, but the current goal of buying 62 per year will be expanded significantly. The first Comanches are due to come off the assembly line in 2006.