Programme office challenges negative Opeval findings claiming operational requirement document was outdated

The US Navy hopes to secure a full rate production decision and declare an initial operational capability (IOC) for the SikorskyMH-60S by late summer despite a damaging operational evaluation (Opeval) report that concluded the new utility helicopter is "not suitable" and "not effective".

Navair's H-60 Multi-Mission Helicopter Programme Office has expressed dissatisfaction with the report's findings in an internal memo seen by Flight International. "It does not adequately reflect the performance of the aircraft," it says, noting that the Opeval report still recommends the continuation of the limited introduction of theMH-60S for training and combat support missions.

The MH-60S was deemed ineffective after failing to meet a vertical replenishment fuel-endurance key-performance parameter, but the programme office adds that the Opeval report says this did not prevent the helicopter from performing the mission. It also says that the helicopter's operational requirement document (ORD), against which the machine was graded, was outdated and is being revised.

The programme office adds that the failure to have the new requirements approved in time resulted in the MH-60S's suitability being marked down for several reasons, including an availability metric and computer mean reboot time, the measures for which have been changed under the planned ORD revision. Other issues raised in the Opeval report, such as the man-machine interface and expanded shipdeck envelope, will only be rectified with new software releases and extra testing. Both are under way, say programme officials.

The question now is whether the Opeval report will delay full rate production, as the first of 13 helicopters funded this year is due for delivery in July, and the navy's IOC is scheduled for August. "We've asked the acquisition chain of command, and the answer is we don't think there is anything stopping us," says a programme officer.

Sikorsky has delivered 30 low- rate initial production MH-60Ss, from a planned 243-machine acquisition. The helicopter is due to be deployed at sea in November, but the report will restrict the MH-60S to ship classes on which it has already been tested until the suitability deficiencies can be addressed. The navy may also have to look closely at the readiness of the more complex MH-60R due to enter Opeval in 2004.

Source: Flight International