The new UH-60V helicopters are the result of an upgrade program for the UH-60A/L, aimed to increase commonality and interoperability with the newer UH-60M.
The Pennsylvania National Guard’s Eastern Army National Guard Aviation Training Site (EAATS) became the first unit to field the UH-60V Black Hawks, with six helicopters delivered to Fort Indiantown Gap’s Muir Army Airfield (Pennsylvania) on July 27, 2021. The UH-60V is an upgraded variant of the legacy UH-60A/L with a digital glass cockpit and integrated avionics suite, supplied by Northrop Grumman, which includes a certified GPS RNAV database and advanced flight planning and mission capability.
“The improved UH-60V airframe provides the Army National Guard enhanced capabilities to better support the multi-domain battlefield of today and tomorrow,” said Col. Joseph Bishop, the Army National Guard’s Aviation and Safety Division chief. “We are excited to have our aviators start in this new, modernized helicopter for the Army, and what better place to start than here in Pennsylvania at EAATS.”
The main goal of the upgrade is to provide the UH-60L with a nearly identical pilot-vehicle interface to the new UH-60M, improving the pilot’s situational awareness and mission safety, as well as decreasing the workload. Another goal is to reduce the obsolescence of the Black Hawk fleet and increase commonality and interoperability between the variants currently in service, speeding up new pilots’ training that won’t need to undergo extensive difference training to switch from one variant to the other.
EAATS will be in charge of the local training to qualify the first instructors that will fly on the upgraded Black Hawk. “With six total UH-60V aircraft, EAATS will provide initial qualification in a ‘train-the-trainer’ fashion,” said Lt. Col. Tim Zerbe, Pennsylvania’s state Army aviation officer. “This process enables unit instructor pilots, standardization pilots and maintenance examiners to get trained and then take that knowledge back to their units in order to train others.”
The first test flight of the Victor variant was accomplished in January 2017, followed by Limited User Test (LUT) in late 2018 where test pilots from Redstone Test Center (Alabama) teamed with operational pilots, crew members and ground troops from the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) employed two UH-60V prototypes under realistic conditions, conducting air movement, air assault and external load missions under day, night (using Night Vision Goggles) and simulated instrument meteorological conditions.
In late 2019, the U.S. Army Operational Test Command (USAOTC) conducted a first Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) phase with three UH-60V prototypes together with aircrews from Company A, 2nd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade and soldiers from the 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (Washington), flying over 120 hours under realistic battlefield conditions and performing mission profiles similar to the ones from LUT. The U.S. Army Center for Countermeasures also deployed three types of threat simulations to stimulate the aircraft’s survivability equipment and trigger pilots’ reactions using the updated cockpit capabilities.
In 2020, the U.S. Army announced the completion of the IOT&E, with the helicopter entering the Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP). The Army is looking to upgrade 760 legacy Lima Black Hawks to the Victor variant, while also phasing out the oldest airframes. The UH-60V might receive a further upgrade in future, as the Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) will replace the T700 engines used by the Black Hawk with the new T901 engine. The UH-60M will be the main beneficiary of the engine upgrade, but it is possible that the UH-60V will receive them too if deemed relevant and affordable.