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GAO: Key Defense Rotorcraft Programs Delayed

The Office of Government Accountability (GAO) has tasked the Pentagon with reviewing the progress of several new military rotorcraft programs in its annual assessment of its recently released weapons system. These include the VH-92A (Marine One), the CH-53K Heavy Lift Replacement Helicopter for Marines, the CH-47F Block II for the Army, and the MH-139A and HH-60W for the Air Force. Programs are all late, to varying degrees, and are facing technical and operational challenges. With the exception of CH-53K, all programs use pre-existing airframes and attempt to modify them to mission requirements.

The Sikarsky VH-92A, the combined development and procurement of 23 aircraft cost $ 5.023 billion.

GAO found that the VH-92A Presidential Helicopter Replacement Program (Marine One) probably corrected previously reported performance problems with classified, government-enhanced mission communications systems in aircraft; However, “follow-on operational testing may require technical changes to address the issues identified.” The GAO further noted that the Navy is working to improve aircraft availability and reduce engine emissions and fluid emissions in the landing zone. A final solution to the drainage problem, which is grazing in the landing zone, has not yet been implemented. A solution proposed by manufacturer Sikorsky that involves changing the blade pitch “requires the aircraft to receive certification from the Federal Aviation Administration for landing zone suitability.” Fifteen of the 23 new aircraft are expected to be fully operational after January 2023.

The combined development and procurement cost of the Sikorsky CH-53K, 200 aircraft is $ 32.41 billion.

As a CH-53K heavy replacement helicopter for the Marine Corps, the aircraft’s program office reported 126 technical problems last year and 119 subsequently resolved. However, significant problems remain. These include: the engine will need a new design to absorb excess sand and dirt into the compressor during rotation; A short lifespan of the main rotor damper and intermediate gearbox; Major gearbox supplier limitations that require hiring new suppliers; Problems encountered with the fuel cell bag supplier in achieving the specification, triggered the need for rework and improved tooling; And the resignation of the supplier for data density units, the need for a search for a new supplier. The CH-53K achieved initial operational capability in April.

Combined development and procurement of Boeing CH-47F Block II, 542 aircraft cost $ 17.3 billion.

Development testing has revealed problems with two key components in the latest Chinook tandem rotor helicopter upgrade program. The Advanced Chinook Rotor Blade (ACRB) induces significant enough vibrations to cause safety concerns, and the new Ferrium C61 steel shafts are sensitive to stress-related cracking and corrosion. As a result, the Army has canceled programs to include new blades and parts of the upgrade, and the new shafts will be subject to additional testing. The aircraft’s new fuel system also failed the test. The GAO reported that “future evaluations of rotor components have been planned.”

Boeing MH-139A Gray Wolf, 80 aircraft with a combined development and procurement cost of $ 3.243 billion.

This militarized version of the Leonardo AW139 Medium Twin for Air Force VIPs and security missions has faced a variety of challenges in incorporating new components into the airframe, resulting in delays in FAA certification approval, according to GAO. “Program officials say Boeing has devalued the design work scale.” This has contributed to the 16-month production delay in the program and additional delays are possible. “Program officials say they are working with Boeing to resolve this significant schedule delay, but Boeing has not submitted the required information in a timely manner.” As a result, the program has withheld 10 percent of its progress funding. “GAO noted that” [program’s] Design instability, there is a risk that subsequent design changes could result in significant recycling of aircraft already in production and retrofitting of aircraft already supplied. ”

Sikorsky HH-60W Jolly Green II, the combined development and procurement of 113 aircraft cost 9.647 billion.

According to the GAO, “due to a lack of access to a mission-ready aircraft equipped with an operational radar warning receiver,” the operational test of the Air Force’s next-generation rescue helicopter was delayed by eight months. Epidemic-related supplier delays are also manifested in sustainability, gun mount systems and training.

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