CBS News sparks VH-71 feeding frenzy

The Pentagon first disclosed a roughly 65% cost overrun for the VH-71 program nearly a year ago, and officially notified Congress of the Nunn-McCurdy breach last month.

So why was it such a big news story today?

Thank CBS Evening News. It’s story last night seemed to open a floodgate of reporting today.

Here’s the current program status: All eight “Increment One” aircraft, including three flight test vehicles, are almost complete. Progress on the “Increment Two” fleet, which includes a new engine, rotor blades, drive shaft, gear box and tail cone, is stalled pending the Nunn-McCurdy review.

The Pentagon obviously has a huge problem on its hands. This is not an ideal time for a politician to buy a fleet of $400 million executive helicopters. But the VH-3Ds and VH-60s currently doing the job aren’t going to fly forever. Maybe Sikorsky could sell about a dozen VH-92s to replace the VH-60s. Perhaps the Navy will cancel Increment Two and settle for the Increment One standard. Terminating the program really can’t be an option. 


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15 Responses to CBS News sparks VH-71 feeding frenzy

  1. Obamanite 18 February, 2009 at 1:30 am #

    Stephen -

    Nice to have you back from hiatus. For whatever reason, the Dew Line has gone missing the last couple of days right when HUGE news about the Raptor have been breaking fast, first and foremost, Schwartz’s revelation that he will ask Gates for more Raptors, but not the 381 the USAF has been saying it needs all along. Perhaps not surprising, but could have been a lot worse for the F-22 given that Schwartz was hand-picked by Gates, no fan of the Raptor. However, given the fact that Schwartz is a Gates crony, you can bet your a$$ this is being coordinated with the SecDef, and that it is almost a foregone conclusion that Gates will ask Obama to continue the Raptor program for three more years for an additional 60 aircraft, as per Mullen’s earlier forecast. So, good, though not great, news for the Raptor program.

    Now, let’s talk politics. I respectfully though vehemently disagree with your statement that “terminating the [VH-71] program really can’t be an option.” Cutbacks will NEED to be made to the Pentagon budget, even when operational realities may suggest otherwise. However much outdated presidential helos may need to be replaced, political realities trump operational needs ten times out of ten (you should know that), and thus it is a no-brainer that Obama will cut a program that has the potential to be political kryptonite in the eyes of an uneducated polity (as it surely is regarding the operational needs of a presidential helicopter replacement program). Now, another program that is slated for the big-time ax is CSAR-X – way too freakin’ expensive and expansive for a system with limited applications and limited improvement over the craft it is meant to replace. Classic case of a 1% increase in capability accounting for 90% of the cost, and that simply cannot be the way the Pentagon keeps doing business. In certain cases, enough rather than the best will have to do, and the CSAR-X program is ripe for the application of that mindset. Will bet half my salary that CSAR-X will not be in the 2010 budget. And the VH-71 program WILL be terminated beyond the machines nearing completion. Again, it is idiotic to spend 90% more on something for a 1% gain in capability. As Schwartz said, given the current financial climate, you have got to accept moderate risk as opposed to low where you can afford to take that risk. The likelihood of all-out nuclear war is so astronomically low – for which the VH-71 was in large measure designed – that to not be 100% prepared for it I do not think constitutes high risk.

    The other half of my salary I will bet on the USAF putting its KC-X program on hold for another three years in order to pay for another three years of Raptor production. So much for Wynn saying the KC-X was the USAF’s #1 priority. It, of course, never was. It has always been the Raptor (priority number 1 through 10), and KC-X will be sacrificed for it, at least for the time being. Coupled with the demise of CSAR-X, the USAF should have enough to fund the Raptor for the next several years. Now, you have to look at this politically, and it makes sense. KC-X would be either built in Washington or Alabama, right? In 2012, WA is a lock for Obama no matter what happens, and AL, well, it ain’t gonna vote for the black guy even if he does a Michael Jackson whitening procedure, okay? So, KC-X dead for the foreseeable future for there will be no political price to pay, nor any gain to be derived from it. As for the Raptor, entirely different story, along with the F-35. Both are safe, as Schwartz made clear for it. The USAF won’t delay the F-35 to pay for the Raptor. Why? Because Gates won’t let it happen. AND, because, unbelievably, Schwartz cited the need to keep costs down for allies purchasing the F-35 (since when did the job description of the USAF CoS include being a part of LM’s sales team???). AND, because the F-35 will be built in Texas, a state that Obama expects to put in play in 2012. Yes, Texas. Look it up – Obama won Dallas AND Houston, incredibly, and of course swept the Latino vote. By 2012, the demographics will be such that Texas will go from a deeply red state into solidly purple and even leaning blue. As for the F-22, guess what? It’s built in Georgia, a state Obama nearly stole away from McCain. Thus, the F-22, for electoral reasons, is safe, not just through the 2012 budget but even the 2013, meaning an additional 80 copies, not 60, as it is unlikely Obama will cut the F-22 in an election year. You don’t think LM is banking on that??? You bet your a$$ they are…

  2. Stephen Trimble 18 February, 2009 at 1:36 am #

    Blame my features editor for the hiatus!

    Schwartz did not make news today on the F-22. He said the exact same thing at his confirmation hearing back in July or August. He said then that the USAF needed somewhat more than 183 and somewhat less than 381. And that’s basically the same thing he said this morning. I don’t blame the news wires for playing it up. They’re kind of hard-wired to use only short-term memory.

    It will be news whenever someone in the Administration finally makes a decision on whether to buy more F-22s or shut down the line.

  3. Royce 18 February, 2009 at 3:18 pm #

    VH-71 grew out of control in the classic fashion. The helicopters are used as taxis, but the conception of the aircraft post 9/11 was that they needed to be mini-AF1s. Too much capability crammed into a helicopter all but guaranteed whopping cost overruns and wasted money.

  4. irtusk 18 February, 2009 at 4:52 pm #

    > AND, because, unbelievably, Schwartz cited the need to keep costs down for allies purchasing the F-35 (since when did the job description of the USAF CoS include being a part of LM’s sales team???)

    it is very much for the USAF benefit to keep cost for allies down

    because if the cost goes too high or the delays drag on too long, they will cut or completely drop orders

    and fewer orders = higher prices for everyone

    Australia was originally going to get all F-35s, but after a couple year delay, they decided they couldn’t wait and got some SHs at ‘stopgap’ aircraft

    Australia was originally going to be buying some of the very earliest, most expensive frames. Now that they have the SH they can afford to wait and ‘push orders to the right’, leaving the USAF to eat all those expensive frames

    that was VERY costly to the USAF

    if you don’t want to see the same thing happen with every other country, you want the project as on time and on budget as possible

  5. Marion L. Mixon 20 February, 2009 at 2:57 am #

    Col Boyer was an Army pilot flying Army One operated by The United States Army Executive Flight Detachment stationed at Davidson AAF VA not Mariine One as your story reported.

    Both the Army and Marines provided Presidental support until 1976 when the mission was given totaly to the Marines.

    Marion L. Mixon
    U.S. Army Retired

  6. Marion L. Mixon 20 February, 2009 at 3:20 am #

    The cost of building is a factor but not many people undersatnd the maintenace cost/replacement parts due to reduced time life of components because the aircraft flys the President. Component times on VH helicopters are greatly reduced for safety. With the VH-3 and VH-60 parts removed due to operating time limits can be removed and return to the Navy supply system for use to full operating time before overhaul. If the VH-71 is the only helicopter in the system with reduced time life on components what is the cost of replacement parts going to be. There is a lot more to look at than just the cost of the aircraft. The same applies to other gear on board of which a lot is the current Navy supply system.

  7. D. Templeton 21 February, 2009 at 2:04 pm #

    Depressed in Ohio
    It’s a cold, grey Saturday morning in Ohio. I’m sitting here looking at a website I just stumbled on by accident. I will post my first ever response to a blog and I’m sure it will draw some interesting responses.

    I laid off three good employees from my commercial printing company yesterday. It was gut wrenching, I know I just threw three families into turmoil. The trend continues, the parking lots are packed for the fields of health, education and government. The barren lots around Ohio manufacturing plants are depressing.

    I voted for our new president hoping to see change. Can one man at the top change the country or is the “Establishment” where 90% of the power really resides? To date, I have been disappointed with his performance. I have been watching the VH 71 program for several years and decided a long time ago that this is my real test to see if we are in lock step with the Roman Empire. If this hushed program is continued and all 28 aircraft built, then I know my children will have less in life than their parents and my grandchildren less than their parents. Can our democracy survive, operating with a purely service oriented business model? Not in my opinion.

    I have no problem protecting the most important job in the world by providing high quality, safe transportation. Building 28 aircraft, however, that cost $400 million each is beyond comprehension for an average taxpayer like myself. The flights are short and I’m assuming are not a daily undertaking. The House and Senate absolutely humiliated the presidents of the “Detroit Three” when they flew their private jets to Washington. A wild guess on my part is their aircraft are in the $20 million range. Comparing the cost of this program to a private jet, we could bring in 560 more presidents with $20 million dollar aircraft and beat the hell out of them for trying to survive. These guys are not having fun, I’ll bet they are working their butts off to save hundred of thousands of manufacturing jobs, I know I am just to protect a few.

    From reading one of the above posts if absolutely fries me to learn the justification for 28 units is due to shortened service life of components. Sick logic in my mind when I think of a dozen of our troops climbing aboard an aircraft that costs 1/10th as much and is expected to last twice as long.

    Well, I have it off my chest. Thanks for provided a venue to offload. I think I’ll go out and treat myself to a real luxury these days, a $1.69 cup of Starbucks!

  8. ken chapman 19 April, 2009 at 8:08 pm #

    As someone who works on the EH101, I am amazed that the “president” wanted so many changes to the basic machine. This has driven the cost up more than anything and is largely unnecessary, trust me, I know. The fact that American jobs will suffer if the VH-71 is canceled, seems to be ignored by every post on the subject on every forum. The American companies that have built new factories, test sites etc, just to service and supply this aircraft, are many fold, (over 60% of the total aircraft remember). Yes the price tag is too high, so as suggested by the original poster, stay with the batch one aircraft. This version is still proven as the safest helicopter in the world, with multiple redundant systems and an incredible crash-worthy airframe. The S-92 can’t fly “dry”, (the recent crashes prove that) the VH-71 can. The S-92 only has two engines and can’t carry out a full flight profile on one engine, the VH-71 has three and can cruise on two or land as safely as the S-92 on one. The list of things that the “BASIC” VH-71 can do better that the S-92 is endless, and don’t forget that the VH version of the S-92 hasn’t even been built yet, and it’s not even close to being the same aircraft as the S-92. (sound familiar).
    Cheers from an interested Brit

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