The US Marine Corps' Bell AH-1Z/UH-1Y modernisation programme is facing a 12 month production slippage as the result of a $100 million cost overrun, and protracted delays in Litton Industries completing the helicopter's new Integrated Avionics System (IAS).


Litton was contracted by Bell in 1997 to supply the upgraded H-1's mission and weapons computers and integrate the helicopter's avionics suite. What was intended to be an 18-month effort has already stretched to more than three years, and will require between 12 and 18 months more to complete, sources say.

Poor management is blamed rather than technical complexity of the IAS, which is described as a low/medium level effort involving around 300,000 lines of code. There has since been a shake-up at Litton, with IAS project responsibility transferred from its Guidance and Control group to a new Integrated Systems Division.

"We recognised there have been difficulties and that's why we've taken action to re-organise and form new management teams to deal with this programme and others," says Litton. It has had similar problems delivering an integrated avionics suite for Australia's Kaman SH-2G(A) Super Seasprite.

Bell is putting pressure on Litton to cut costs and deliver by issuing a new request for information (RFI) to augment the IAS development effort which states: "Options range from providing point hardware and/or software solutions to overall integration management of subcontractors."

The IAS has contributed to a "significant proportion" of the H-1's $100 million budget overrun," says an official. The USMC, as a result, is faced with having to delay the start of low rate initial production (LRIP). It had planned to seek funding in the next fiscal year (FY) 2002 budget for the first five machines, followed by a second LRIP purchase of 17 in FY2003.

This may slip by a year, and the quantities of helicopters involved may change. The USMC does not anticipate a delay to the AH-1Z's initial operation capability (IOC) date of late FY2006, having built into the programme an 18-month cushion. The UH-1Y's earlier FY2005 IOC will, however, slide a year to around the same date as the attack helicopter.

IAS delays did not affect the 7 December first flight of the lead AH-1Z test helicopter, which will be employed for structural work and envelope expansion. The critical machine for avionics testing is the UH-1Y, the first flight of which is now due late next year.

This is dependent upon Litton delivering hardware and a final software load by next August.

Source: Flight International