U.S. Presidential Helo Delayed Again by Cost, Acquisition Concerns

 - March 2, 2012, 10:30 AM
The Sikorsky VH-3D (pictured) and VH-60N helicopters operated by U.S. Marine Helicopter Squadron One will be upgraded, pending a revised acquisition strategy for the follow-on VXX Presidential helicopter. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

The U.S. Navy’s latest attempt to replace the aging Presidential helicopter fleet has been delayed. The Pentagon rejected an analysis of alternatives (AoA) for the VXX program because no “cost-effective” solution was identified, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The VXX program is a successor to the VH-71 acquisition that the DoD terminated in June 2009, after nearly $3 billion had been spent over four years to develop the Lockheed Martin Kestrel version of the AgustaWestland AW101.

In its second annual performance audit of the VXX program, the GAO notes that “finding an acceptable solution has proved elusive.” According to the GAO, the AoA study team (led by the Naval Air Systems Command) evaluated 52 possible solutions, including the AgustaWestland AW101 (to be provided this time by Boeing), Bell-Boeing V-22 tiltrotor, Boeing CH-47F and Sikorsky S-92, UH-60M and CH-53K. But the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) then issued more guidance to shape a revision of the AoA that would achieve “a rational balance [among] requirements, costs and schedule,” the GAO said. The AoA team will present its revised take on the options to the OSD this month.

The DoD’s additional guidance “reflects an incremental approach” to achieving the capabilities sought for the VXX, according to the GAO. This entails first extending the service lives and upgrading the existing fleet of 19 Sikorsky VH-3Ds and VH-60Ns operated by Marine Helicopter Squadron One. The Navy will then define open systems architectures that can accommodate both current and future technologies. These will be integrated on “an existing, available aircraft” selected for the VXX program. New technologies will be developed and integrated as “planned product improvements.”

The GAO notes that the delay in starting the VXX program “may be beneficial…if it results in developing knowledge earlier by maturing technologies outside the VXX program before integrating them into the VXX aircraft… This approach contrasts with that tried in the VH-71 program.”