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New York Fights for VH-71 Program

It seems like Lockheed's threats of layoffs in New York, and obvious behind the scenes lobbying, is having an effect. This report in The Star Gazette describes a proposal by New York states two Democratic senators, Schumer and Gillibrand, to try and keep the VH-71 Presidential Transport Helicopter program going.

This joint endeavor by Lockheed and Finmeccanica of Italy seen below in a Lockheed Martin video was recommended for cancellation by Secretary of Defense Gates in his FY10 budget proposal. The development is very behind schedule and over cost for a variety of reasons. The program was divided into two pieces with the first increment of nine aircraft being used for testing and interim service with a minimal set of requirements while increment two of fourteen would meet all of the needs specified by the Navy.

Increment two has a severe list of performance requirements while carrying a substantial load of protection equipment and communications gear. This has led to some of the issues as the EH 101 airframe needed to improve its load and performance capabilities. The two Senators are proposing to utilize the increment one aircraft on which a substantial amount of funds have already been spent to buy some capability to replace the aging H-3, UH-60 and CH-53 aircraft now being used. They also have proposed a smaller program to be looked at where the number and capabilities are reduced.

In the past with U.S., and other countries, acquisition programs there have been times when an attempt has been made to cut losses and just accept the available performance. The system then could be upgraded over time if funding and need were there. This has not always been acceptable to Congress, the user or the taxpayer although it can be argued, as the two Senators do here, that at least you are getting something for the money already spent. Unfortunately by not meeting all of the requirements or capabilities the military ends up with a system that has restrictions placed on its use that may make it incapable of carrying out necessary missions. That means an older or a brand new system will still have to do these adding to the cost overall.

This is what has happened with the British buy of CH-47 Chinook aircraft to support their Special Forces. Due to a contracting issue they were not certifiable for the planned missions and now after several years and tens of million of dollars they will be used to carry out less strenuous cargo missions. This means that eventually more money will be spent keeping the older CH-47 aircraft flying or on a new aircraft.

It is obvious that there will be continued conflicts in Congress until the final budget is completed in the Fall. Rumor has it the final budget with all details will be released in the next couple of weeks which may lead to more fights as the plans for smaller programs are realized.

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