An MH-139 Grey Wolf lifts off for a mission Aug. 17 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

WASHINGTON — The Air Force is moving to halve its planned procurement of the new MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopter, according to the service’s fiscal year 2025 budget documents.

Budget books for the last fiscal year had projected the service would buy a total of 74 MH-139As, which are made by Boeing in partnership with Italian defense firm Leonardo. Now, FY25 budget documents released by the service Monday evening say that the MH-139A’s program of record has plummeted to just 36 of the helos.

A replacement for the aging UH-1N Huey, the MH-139A is primarily tasked with patrolling American nuclear silos, but is also used to transport officials around the national capital region, as well as for other roles like civilian search and rescue. According to Air Force acquisition chief Andrew Hunter, it’s aircraft for those secondary roles that will now largely be cut.

“It’s just about the overall budget of the Air Force and what we’re able to afford and what we’re not able to afford,” Hunter told reporters following a congressional hearing today. “What we are doing is fielding MH-139 to all of the nuclear forces, so Global Strike Command. We’re completely fielding the systems needed for those forces. We had anticipated also fielding to replace aircraft in other locations not associated with Global Strike, and those we will not be able to replace.”

A Boeing spokesperson referred a request for comment to the Air Force. The Air Force bought 20 of the helos through FY24, and budget documents show the service would buy eight in FY25, but then dip to two procurements per year through FY29. The truncated procurement drops the service’s total expected buy from nearly $2.6 billion to $1.4 billion, according to FY24 and FY25 budget documents.

Gen. Anthony Cotton, head of US Strategic Command, testified [PDF] to the Senate Armed Services Committee late last month about the value of the Grey Wolf in the Air Force’s nuclear modernization push.

“This helicopter increases the overall protection of our nuclear arsenal by providing an enhanced rapid response against threats to our land-based ICBM infrastructure,” Cotton said in a recent written statement to lawmakers ahead of a Feb. 29 hearing.

After deferring procurement to achieve requisite FAA certifications, the Air Force restarted acquisition of the helicopter in FY23. Hunter formally approved the Grey Wolf to begin production last year. 

In August 2023, Air Force officials said they secured a path forward for the helo’s technical data packages, paving the way for more service-led maintenance and competition among contractors for sustainment.

On March 9, Malmstrom Air Force Base — home to a nuclear missile field — celebrated the arrival of its first operational Grey Wolf.