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Monday, October 1, 2007

Rotorcraft Report: Navy, Contractors Wrestle With VH-71 Problems

It remains to be seen whether the problems that have plagued the VH-71 are behind the contractor team led by Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command.

The parties are in the throes of restructuring the presidential transport helicopter program to rationalize the development schedule for the aircraft and recover delays that have kept the program in the headlines in a way neither the contractors nor the Navy would prefer.

They don’t expect to be finished with the restructuring until year’s end.

Lockheed Martin Systems Integration in Owego, N.Y. is leading the US101 team of AgustaWestland and Bell Helicopter that won the contract to provide 26 helicopters to replace the U.S. Marine Corps’ fleet of Sikorsky Aircraft VH-3Ds. When they awarded the contract at the start of 2005, Navy officials emphasized that Team 101 won because it stood the best chance of meeting an urgent need to field VH-3D replacements by October 2009.

But the program immediately ran into trouble, which Lockheed Martin officials attributed to the Navy changing aircraft requirements from those specified in the competition’s request for proposals. The original plan to quickly field five VH-71s in a basic configuration by 2009, then upgrade them to the final configuration was abandoned. The five still will be fielded, but they won’t join the standard VH-71 fleet.

Navy officials concurred that their requirement changes contributed to schedule slips. Nonetheless, the service decided Lockheed Martin would not receive a bonus for the first phase of development because it missed key schedule milestones. The problems also cost Lockheed Martin in the U.S. Air Force’s combat search and rescue competition. The Air Force rejected its US101 bid in part because the company failed to stick to the Navy’s schedule for the VH-71.

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