The RAH-66 Comanche is the first U.S helicopter designed specifically for the role of armed reconnaissance helicopter. The Army currently has an armed scout helicopter in its fleet--the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior--but it is an upgraded version of a Vietnam-era observation helicopter. In contrast, the Comanche has been tailored to the role of armed scout. It is smaller and lighter than the Apache--43 feet long and 7,700 pounds compared with 51 feet and 11,400 pounds--and its composite airframe incorporates stealth technology to evade detection. The Comanche's very sophisticated detection and navigation systems would allow it to operate at night and in bad weather, which the Kiowa Warrior cannot do effectively. Finally, the Army has designed the Comanche so that it can fit more easily than the Apache into transport aircraft or onto transport ships to be deployed to hot spots quickly. If transport assets were not available, the Comanche's range of 1,260 nautical miles would even allow it to fly to battlefields overseas on its own.
The Army plans to purchase almost 1,300 Comanches to fill the scout and light attack roles. Procurement of the first aircraft off the production line, however, is not scheduled until 2004. During the next nine years, the Army will be conducting flight qualification tests and evaluating the eight prototypes that it plans to build. The first of those prototypes was rolled out of the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation's helicopter production facility in May 1995 and was scheduled for its first flight in December 1995. The Army has already spent $3 billion to develop the Comanche and plans to spend almost $4 billion more by 2006 to complete its development. Purchasing 1,292 helicopters by 2025 will cost the Army an additional $26 billion.