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Boots on the Ground — Inside the Marine One Program and Other Corps Initiatives

by Ward Carroll on February 24, 2009

You all know by now that Sen. John McCain raised the issue of the VH-71 Kestrel helicopter program — the so-called “Marine One” buy — at the “fiscal summit” yesterday at the White House.

Defense Tech has been on the story for a while but had a hard time getting details on it (sensing the political implications of the program and it’s international component, the program’s been a bit locked down a la F-22).

One thing we did know is that McCain’s defense staff had eyed this program for cancellation months ago. Not sure why they targeted this one in particular, but I have some background on the program from my reporting of the pre-downselect wrangling between Sikorsky and LockMart/Augusta-Westland a few years ago.

I’m not really sure of the urgency of the program — in other words I don’t have a clear sense of how long the VH-3 aircraft are going to be “airworthy” or what the cost-benefit of keeping them in the air vs. buying a new helo really is. My sense was that the award to LockMart/A-W was a bit more risky than the Sikorsky platform, since Sikorsky is cranking out H-60s and was offering an S-92 derivative for the new Prez chopper (it’s just a stretched out version of the 60). How much of the LockMart award was a reach-out to Euro allies is unclear, but more than a few sources say it clearly was.

Program allies have been saying that the increased costs are a result of increased requirements — particularly nuclear hardening and other high-tech add ons. And that may be true. But it seems to me this program was awarded in an environment when these sorts of cost escalations could be expected and accommodated with some grumbling…and I wonder how much the program relied in the idea that “hey, we can’t cut corners with the president’s helicopter” to give them a pass.

Well, looks like the chickens have come to roost.

So, in an effort to give DT readers a bit more perspective, I’m scheduled a live podcast with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments’ Dakota Wood, a former Marine Officer and subject matter expert on Marine programs and organization. We’ll use the opportunity to talk to him a little bit about this and other Corps initiatives at 1430 EST today.

Hope you’ll listen in…

– Christian

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

C. Foskey February 24, 2009 at 1:43 pm

“(it’s just a stretched out version of the 60).”
Ouch! While sometimes the S92 is trumpeted as being an evolution of the UH60 (to assuage fears of it being totally new tech with typically reluctant military buyers), its FAR from merely a “stretched” Hawk. Ive spent times working on both programs and they have evolved significantly, especially in dynamic systems, from their similar origin.
A commonly held belief around the domestic helicopter industry, at least among fellow engineer colleagues of mine, is that the award to AW for VXX was little more than a pat on the back to Tony Blair etc. for their assistance in the middle east. Right or wrong, thats how a lot of people see it.

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Valcan February 24, 2009 at 4:01 pm

Program allies have been saying that the increased costs are a result of increased requirements — particularly nuclear hardening and other high-tech add ons
?….you must mean emp….cause if it gets hit buy a nuke its already game over

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Valcan February 24, 2009 at 4:03 pm

also id say go with the s92 its a more know system and seriously what does it say that our helos are made in euro land

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CR February 24, 2009 at 6:30 pm

Valcan,
Yes, “..nuclear hardening..” translates to EMP protection….but that doesn’t mean “Getting hit by a nuke..” almost all DoD systems now a days are designed to survive in a nuclear EMP environment.

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Valcan February 24, 2009 at 7:34 pm

Valcan,
Yes, “..nuclear hardening..” translates to EMP protection….but that doesn’t mean “Getting hit by a nuke..” almost all DoD systems now a days are designed to survive in a nuclear EMP environment.
Posted by: CR at February 24, 2009 06:30 PM
ah ok thanks thats what i figured. but sence most military hardware is em resistant why is it so much more expensive than normal because of that?

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maguro February 25, 2009 at 11:39 am

“…almost all DoD systems now a days are designed to survive in a nuclear EMP environment.”
I don’t know where you heard that, but it’s completely false.

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nb February 25, 2009 at 1:37 pm

Its almost always requirement changes after the contract is given that mess up these projects.
Once a contract is given there seems to be a race between the services and the contractor to see who can propose the most changes. A new module here, another there, power and cooling changes, and your project managers are spending most of their time and taxpayer money just rebidding the project. And everyone figures (sometimes mistakenly) that they’re in too deep to quit.

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Gost February 25, 2009 at 8:04 pm

Sounds like the pres doesn’t think much of spending much on the VH-71 either (“An example of the procurement process gone amok”). I just wonder if Sikorsky is afraid of Euro competition on other contracts besides VH-71. More competition will result in the best machines over time. You can work out co-production & offsets after you’ve chosen the best design. The Euros are used to doing that among themselves already.

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sokala February 25, 2009 at 11:10 pm

Almost all systems are designed and tested to be E3 (cubed)(Electromagnetic Environmental Effects, MIL-STD-464) which will get you to almost to a survivable EMP level/capability (depending on the level specified) HOWEVER, its not the cost of design that pushes EMP in the bank busting category but the required testing to verify that the system meets the survival requirements. Its insanely expensive, esp on a system that will have low number of production units to perform the required testing. Boeing ate $1 to $1.5 billion on the current Air Force One in part to due to this cost (i.e. massive amt of wiring had to be removed and re-designed to meet EMP and E3 requirements).

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Dip February 28, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Just speculation on my part but in light of Mr. Young’s many and pointed comments about CSAR-X, it seems to me that cancellation of the President’s new helicopter is a necessary prerequisite to cancellation of CSAR-X. Wouldn’t look right cancelling the warfighters’ new rescue helicopter while you’re buying a new one of your own.

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