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Contenders for New Presidential Helicopter Lining Up

Earlier this century the Pentagon started a program managed by the Navy and Marine Corps to replace the existing helicopters used to transport the President. Currently a mix of Sikorsky, part of United Technologies (UTX), made VH-3 and VH-60 aircraft are used. Some of them are now over 40 years old. It was felt that a new system was needed that was more efficient, capable and equipped with modern communication equipment. This was the VH-71 program.

The VH-71 planned to use an aircraft from Augusta Westland modified by prime contractor Lockheed Martin (LMT). The program was to proceed in two stages with a few aircraft bought early to test and integrate modifications. This proceeded with several aircraft purchased and modified. The problems arose as the requirements for the second effort changed considerably over time leading to schedule and cost growth. By 2009 the program was several billion dollars over budget and was cancelled by the Obama Administration as part of their defense reforms.

A draft RFP was released this week for the new program. It plans to save money and manage schedule by requiring the use of an existing, in production aircraft which will be modified. It is requesting that the bidders plan to minimize changes to expensive parts of the aircraft such as the power train, transmission, structure and rotor system. A communication system is being developed separately that will be integrated onto the new aircraft.

The VH-71 suffered as the requirements meant new major systems had to be developed and integrated to meet power, range and hovering capability requirements. The RFP is for 23 aircraft at a cost of just under $1 billion with the first ones entering service in 2020.

Currently teams made up of Sikorsky and Lockheed and Augusta Westland and Northrop Grumman (NOC) are interested. Boeing (BA) may propose after doing analysis as to whether their large CH-47 or V-22 tilt rotor aircraft may meet the requirements.

The VXX program is aggressive in that it hopes to contain cost, schedule and technical creep. As the VH-71 program indicated it may be hard to do this. With the expected defense cuts coming up the contract is very attractive not only due to its size but also the prestige. As with other large aviation programs the winner may also expect several decades worth of support contracts which could be worth billions.

Photo from dailymatador’s flickr photostream.

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