22 May 2010

Yet Another Service Sabotaging Itself

In this case, it's the Marine Corps, which is slipping the date of the 1st flight of its CH-53K heavy lift helo by 2 years for no apparent reason:
The first flight of the U.S. Marine Corps’ heavy lifter CH-53K helicopter has slipped two years to 2013, while its initial operational capability (IOC) has slid three years to 2018, officials have confirmed to AVIATION WEEK.

The date slips come as no surprise to the Marines and the CH-53K program office at Naval Air Systems Command (Navair). In January 2009, program manager Capt. Rick Muldoon submitted a Program Deviation Report for the aircraft’s critical design review (CDR) to the Pentagon acquisition headquarters. The CDR is now slated for September, representing a year’s delay.
There is no indication of technical problems or of development issues that would justify this.

So, why is this happening?

It appears that it is happening because the helo largely meets or exceeds the payload and range capabilities, though not the speed, of the V-22 Osprey and as such, it is a threat to Marine Corps procurement plans for the tilt rotor and foreign sales:
Why slow the program? When delivered, the new fly-by-wire CH-53K will, in theory, transport 27,000 pounds of external cargo out to a range of 110 nautical miles, nearly tripling the thirty-year old CH-53E’s lift capability under similar environmental conditions–all while fitting under the same shipboard footprint.

The CH-53K will also provide unparalleled lift under high and hot conditions while maintainability and reliability enhancements to the CH-53K will decrease recurring operating costs over the current CH-53E (the CH-53K aims at a more reasonable $10,000 dollars per flight hour while the CH-53E costs twice that). Survivability and force protection enhancements will also increase protection dramatically, for both aircrew and passengers. What’s not to like?

The CH-53K was an unsung showpiece for those preaching the virtues of incremental development, and, as a result, appetite for the platform has grown by about 30 percent, with the program of record expected to increase from156 aircraft to 200.

But, in the process, the CH-53K has become something of a MV-22-killer. Is this the problem?
Ummm ……… Yes?
The CH-53K is steadily eating away at the V-22 Osprey market. In late 2009, the Marine Corps decided to go with the CH-53Ks to replace their 40-year old CH-53D fleet (MV-22 Ospreys were originally slated to replace the CH-53D). At about the same time, Israel decided to forego the Osprey for the CH-53K, killing the Osprey’s best hope of snaring an international buyer. And with the Osprey 65% availability and the MV-22s high operating costs of about $11,000 dollars an hour, the CH-53K posed a serious threat to the MV-22 program.

Even worse, studies from the Pentagon demonstrated that a CH-53K-equipped big-deck amphib provided a lot more logistical support for embarked Marines than the MV-22, suggesting the mix of embarked MV-22s and CH-53Ks needed tweaking (and possibly fewer MV-22s).
(emphasis mine)

Much in the same way that the USAF is scrambling to retire legacy F-16s and F-15s so as to make the F-35 JSF a dire need, the Marine Corps is slow walking the CH-53K in an attempt to protect their orders, and possibly encourage foreign orders, for the ruinously expensive Osprey.

The program is being delayed because it is too successful.

This is what is wrong with defense procurement in the US Military in a nutshell.


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