Kiowa Warrior

The OH-58D Kiowa Warrior is a two-pilot single engine armed reconnaissance helicopter. The OH-58D’s highly accurate navigation system permits precise target location that can be handed off to other engagement systems. The OH-58D has an infrared thermal imaging capability and can display night vision goggle flight reference symbology. It’s laser rangefinder/designator can provide autonomous designation for laser-guided precision weapons. Air-to-Air Stinger (ATAS) missiles provide the Kiowa Warrior with protection against threat aircraft.


The primary mission of the Kiowa Warrior is armed reconnaissance in air cavalry troops and light attack companies. In addition, the Kiowa Warrior may be called upon to participate in the following missions or tasks:

  • Joint Air Attack (JAAT) operations
  • Air combat
  • Limited attack operations
  • Artillery target designation

 The Kiowa Warrior is an armed version of the earlier OH-58D Kiowa Advanced Helicopter Improvement Program (AHIP) aircraft, which itself was a highly modified version of the OH-58A/C Kiowa. A hostile gunboat presence at night in the Persian Gulf in 1987 created the need for a small armed scout helicopter for interdiction. Close teamwork between the U.S. Armed Forces and Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc. developed the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior in less than 100 days, to counter this threat.

The Kiowa Warrior procurement plan is to acquire, through modification or retrofit of existing OH-58A and D aircraft, approximately 401 Kiowa Warriors. There are two concurrent programs which produce Kiowa Warriors: a program which modifies OH-58A aircraft, and a retrofit program that will eventually re-configure all 185 OH-58D Army Helicopter Improvement Program models. The Department of the Army has specified an acquisition objective of 507 Kiowa Warriors even though the current procurement authorization is for only 401 of them.

The first Kiowa Warrior was delivered to the Army in May 1991. It replaced selected AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters (those that function as scouts in air cavalry troops and light attack companies), and OH-58A and C Kiowas in air cavalry troops.

The Mast Mounted Sight (MMS) is one of the key elements of the Kiowa Warrior. Its unique day/night capabilities allow the crew to scan the battlefield with the ability to acquire, identify, and derive the coordinate locations of potential targets.

The US Navy selected the Kiowa Warrior Mast Mounted Sight for use on their ships. They were so pleased with it’s performance that they entered into a program to update the technology in the existing platform. Their current Mast Mounted Sight II sight is smaller, lighter in weight, and half the cost of the US Army MMS. In addition, the optics have been upgraded through the application of technology insertion. The dollar cost avoidance in acquisition, operations and support cost, and spare components to support this system on the Kiowa Warrior is potentially significant.

The AIM-1 MLR (and DLR), a class IIIb infrared (IR) laser, provides a beam of light invisible to the naked eye. Its beam is said to be effective for aiming at ranges up to 3km. It is designed to operate in conjunction with standard night vision devices (its beam’s impact point visible). The AIM-1 laser is boresighted to a point 2.8 inches vertically above the .50 Cal machine gun barrel bore center line of sight at a distance of 500 inches. This provides the proper offset for firing at a range of 1000 meters.

The principal difference between the Kiowa Warrior and its immediate OH-58D predecessor is a universal weapons pylon on both sides of the aircraft capable of accepting combinations of the laser guided Hellfire missile, the Air-to-Air Stinger (ATAS) missile, 2.75″ Folding Fin Aerial Rocket (FFAR) pods, and a .50 caliber machine gun. In addition to these weapons, the Kiowa Warrior upgrade includes changes designed to provide improvements in air-to-air and air-to-ground communications, mission planning and management, available power, survivability, night flying, and reductions in crew workload through the use of on-board automation and cockpit integration.

Since the last analysis conducted in FY94, the Army determined that modifications in mission and equipment over time have created a deficiency in the Kiowa Warrior autorotation capability. In general terms, the cumulative addition of new equipment caused the weight of the aircraft to increase dramatically, meaning that in the event of an engine failure or other similar occurrence, the aircraft lost some of its original autorotative capability, causing the aircraft to descend faster and experience an extended ground slide upon touchdown. As a result, the Army developed a two-phase Safety Enhancement Program (SEP) to reduce the safety risk to Kiowa Warrior aviators. The program consists of both training and material changes.

An improved version of the T-703 (R-3) engine is currently being installed which provides higher reliability and double the current overhaul interval, greater hot day power, and a Full Authority Digital Electronic Control (FADEC). The FADEC provides automatic rotor speed control, in-flight restart, and performance recording, as well as more precise fuel metering capabilities. Additionally, an integrated body and head restraint system, a cockpit air bag system, and energy absorbing seats are being installed to enhance survivability in any crash situation.

Beginning in March 1997, a number of improvements were introduced into new production OH-58Ds resulting from Task Force XXI exercises that took place at Fort Irwin, CA in March 1997, to demonstrate the Army’s concept of the “digital battlefield”. These improvements include an improved Allison 250-C30R/3 650 SHP engine equipped with an upgraded hot section to improve high-altitude/hot-day performance. The C30R/3 is fitted with a full authority digital electronic control system that replaces the hydromechanical fuel control unit. The improved production Kiowa Warrior has an integrated cockpit control and display system, improved master control processor with digital map and video crosslink, along with an improved data modem, secure radio communications, and a GPS embedded in the inertial navigation system. Additional improvements include an infrared jammer, infrared suppressor, radar warning receivers, and a laser warning detector to improve aircraft survivability.

The robust sensor capabilities of the KW in its mission as an armed reconnaissance aircraft, are greatly enhanced by more effective communications within today’s digitized battlefield. By using the highly integrated avionics already on the aircraft, this capability can be added with only minor hardware and software changes. Video Image Crosslink (VIXL) provides the KW with the capability to send and receive still frame images over one of the FM radios. The VIXL consists of a circuit card installed in the IMCPU. In 1996 the KW Product Manager’s Office (PMO) developed four VIXL ground stations, which consist of an Aviation Mission Planning Station (AMPS) with a Tactical Communication Interface Modules (TCIM) and a SINCGARS radio. The ground stations are used to transfer VIXL images on the ground.

Improved Mast Mounted Sight System Processor (IMSP) replaces the older configuration MMS System Processor (MSP). The product improved aircraft includes a new high-speed digital signal processor that provides improved tracking capabilities by split-screen in both TV and Thermal Imaging Sight (TIS) modes, low contrast target tracking, simultaneous multi-target tracking of up to six targets, moving target indicator, aided target recognition, and automatic reaquiring of targets lost due to obstruction. The operator video display reflects real time TV zoom and still frame capabilities. The IMSP enhancements consist of the use of high-speed Gallium Arsenide based digital signal processor integrated circuits in the MMS signal processor. The Circuit Card Assembly count in the processor will be reduced from 30 to 16. This reduction and use of state-of-the-art component technology enhances reliability, maintainability, and supportability. The IMSP provides for enhanced growth and does not require substantial aircraft hardware changes. An update to the aircraft software, however, is required to execute the enhanced functions of the upgraded processor. This provides for future insertion of neural net automatic target recognition, identification of friend or foe, passive ranging, and real-time image enhancements. Form and fit of the existing MMS system processor is maintained, and is backwards compatible with the MMS System Processor (MSP). As of July 1997, all aircraft delivered from the Bell Helicopter production lots have the IMSP installed. All retrofit aircraft will be equipped MSPs. As the MSPs are removed through attrition, they are replaced with IMSPs.

The addition of weapons, improved cockpit integration, and better navigational capability have resulted in an aircraft that is much more capable than its predecessor. Furthermore, the potential enhancements to mission planning and management provided by the aviation mission planning system (AMPS) and data transfer system (DTS) were very apparent during the DSUFTP. All of these improvements were achieved without any noticeable impact on readiness, as indicated by the aircraft’s operational availability.

The three primary Government Furnished Equipment (GFE) subsystems include the Mast Mounted Sight (MMS), Control Display System (CDS), and the T703-AD-700 engine. McDonnell Douglas Aerospace-West, located in Huntington Beach, CA, is the contractor for the MMS. The CDS contractor is Honeywell, Inc., located in Albuquerque, NM. The engine contractor is Rolls Royce, (formerly Allison,) located in Indianapolis, IN.

DRS Optronics bought the MMS from Boeing who had bought out McDonnell Douglas. DRS operates out of Melbourne, Florida.


Crew 2 pilots
Height 12 feet 10.6 inches
Length 41 feet 2.4 inches
Rotor diameter 35 feet
Maximum gross weight 4,500 pounds (unarmed);
5,500 pounds (armed)
Maximum airspeed 125 KIAS
Cruise airspeed 80 KIAS
Endurance 2 hours
  • Data transfer system ground station, data transfer module, data transfer receptacle in the aircraft.
  • Video tape recorder records up to 2 hours of copilot’s MFD.
  • ANVIS display symbology system provides basic flight information.
Mast-mounted sight
  • Thermal imaging sensor.
  • Television sensor.
  • Laser range finder/designator.
  • Optical boresight system.
  • .50-caliber heavy machine gun.
  • 2.75 inch folding fin aerial rocket.
  • Air-to-air Stinger missile.
  • Hellfire modular missile system.
Communication equipment
  • One UHF AN/ARC-164 Have Quick.
  • One VHF-AM AN/ARC-186.
  • HF capable
  • Retransmission capabilities.
  • FM homing (AN/ARC-186 only).
  • Improved Data Modem (digital communications).
  • Joint Variable Message Format
  • Blue Force Tracker
  • SATCOM Satellite Communication
Navigation equipment
  • Embedded Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation System (EGI)
Aircraft survivability equipment
  • AN/APX-100 IFF.
  • AN/ALQ-144 IR jammer.
  • AN/APR-39A radar warning receiver.
  • AN/AVR-2 laser detecting set.

The Comanche was intended to replace the current fleet of AH-1 and OH-58 helicopters in all air cavalry troops and light division attack helicopter battalions. Aviation battalions were to be reorganized as part of the Army’s 2000 Aviation Force Modernization Plan. AH-1 Cobras were divested by October 2001, and A and C model OH-58 Kiowas would be retired by 2004. The Cobras and Kiowas were to be replaced by AH-64D Apaches and eventually by RAH-66 Comanches, the new reconnaissance and attack helicopter which was scheduled to begin joining the Army in 2008. Later-model Kiowas are scheduled for retirement in fiscal year 2013, according to the plan. The 39 billion dollar Comanche program was canceled in March 2004.

Even though the Comanche is dead, Army officials said they would ask the defense industry to propose plans to build a new armed reconnaissance aircraft. Lt. Gen. Richard Cody said no details are available except that an Army study determined a need for 368 new armed scout helicopters.

Under the Army Aviation Modernization Plan (AAMP) and the ongoing Army Aviation Transformation (AAT), the Army’s primary OH-58A/C fleet was targeted for retirement by end FY04. Even if some OH-58A/C are temporarily retained past FY04, the Army logistical support base will be of limited use and a diminishing resource until available parts stocks are exhausted. The result is that not later than FY05 123 aging OH-58A aircraft in the Counterdrug Reconnaissance and Aerial Interdiction Detachments (CD RAID) mission will either have to be replaced by a newer series aircraft, or maintained at a significant and steadily increasing cost using commercial parts and contract support because the military will no longer train personnel to support this system.

While no direct validated feasibility study pertaining to CD RAID and the need for a light-twin engine helicopter exists; it is the position of NGB CD RAID to support the continued efforts for a modernized replacement aircraft, however, a maintenance/logistical trail must be included in any purchase and/or lease agreement for this effort. If the Army is unwilling or unable to provide out year OPTEMPO costs for any modernization program authorized by congress then NGB-CD would explore all options including lease agreements to support the requirements of the Governor’s State CD Plans. Furthermore, CD RAID has proven itself as a viable asset in the Homeland Defense and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) missions. The authority for the National Guard Counterdrug Support Program (NGB-CD) exists under statutory authority SEC 112, Title 32 United States Code (32 USC 112). NGB Counterdrug Reconnaissance and Aerial Interdiction Detachments (CD RAID) have substantiated a proven need for replacement aircraft to ensure continued support to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

While the future of the Kiowa Warrior is uncertain, it has proven itself and continues to do so even to this day, in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan. Plans were set to replace it once again, this time with Bell Helicopter’s ARH Arapaho, Attack-Reconnaissance Helicopter, but that program was also recently terminated.


  The OH-58D(R) – System/Safety Enhancement Program