Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Another helicopter program with cost overruns

Posted by John McHale

Once again a military helicopter program is making headlines for its excessive costs. Both sides of the political aisle are questioning not only the cost of the new presidential rotorcraft and its helicopter avionics, but its necessity as well.

Reports were all over the Web about how during a recent economic summit Sen. John McCain was questioning President Barack Obama over the cost overruns associated with the Marine One presidential helicopter program, which is led by Lockheed Martin.

According to an article from Defense Industry Daily the program had a "50 percent + cost overrun."

Obama reportedly responded by saying the one he has now works just fine. Is this a sign that another helicopter program may be canceled or severely cut back?

The last military helicopter program to get nailed for being way over budget was the Army's Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH), which was canceled last fall.

The ARH, produced by Bell Helicopter, was slated to replace the aging Kiowa Warrior. According to an Army release the ARH program exceeded initial cost estimates by approximately $583 million and had delivery pushed out four years from 2009 to 2013.

During a press conference I attended in October, Army Aviation leaders stressed that even though the program was canceled, the requirement it represented -- "to relieve pressure on the Kiowa program" -- remained.

Army officials have stated that in the absence of a new platform they will focus on upgrades of the Kiowa and other helicopters such as the Apache.

Yet, is upgrading the Kiowa enough? It seems more of a band-aid than fulfillment of the requirement that the ARH was designed for.

However, Department of Defense leaders need to examine why these major programs cannot stay on budget before they award a new one -- even before they chart new upgrade paths for the Kiowa. Success for U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq depends heavily on efficient helicopter platforms.

ARH promised to be a game changer before it was derailed by what appears to be poor planning.

Let's hope lessons learned are applied and the next platform succeeds on time and on budget to give U.S. warfighters the advantage they need.

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