Magazine article National Defense

Marine One Replacement Flying under Trump's Radar

Magazine article National Defense

Marine One Replacement Flying under Trump's Radar

Article excerpt

After two major military aviation programs recently took heat from President Donald Trump on Twitter, defense contractors might be more cautious about cost overruns and schedule delays to avoid a public lashing, analysts said.

But so far, one crucial program--the Marine One presidential helicopter replacement--seems safe from facing the same critiques as the F-35 joint strike fighter and the Air Force One presidential aircraft replacement.

Sikorsky is providing the Marine Corps with 23 helicopters based off of its S-92A aircraft, replacing the current fleet of eight VH-60N and 11 VF1-3D rotorcraft, according to the U.S. Navy Naval Air Systems Command, or NAVAIR. Designated as VH-92A, the new fleet is expected to enter into service by 2020.

"Marine One does not appear to actively be on his radar," said Ray Jaworowski, senior aerospace analyst at Forecast International, a Newtown, Connecticut-based marketing and consulting firm. "That having been said, should it run into cost overrun problems or schedule delays, that type of thing could well get the attention of the president."

Sikorsky and its parent company Lockheed Martin will have to guard against those potential snags as they move forward in development, "because then it could become a focus of criticism, particularly in light of the recent Air Force One slap," he added.

Cost overruns were a major issue that led to the cancellation of the previous Marine One replacement program, Jaworowski noted. "So you have that example already sitting there, in the original go-round."

Higher-than-expected costs have "pretty much become the norm" in both civil and military aerospace projects, and are to some extent expected, he said. "But I think this new administration is going to be less quick to accept it as being part of the norm."

The service has been working for over a decade to replace the presidential rotorcraft fleet that has been in service since the 1970s and 1980s. The previous attempt, known as VH-71, was led by Lockheed Martin and AgustaWestland --now Leonardo--and was canceled by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2009 for cost overruns and requirements creep, according to analysts. But the Marine Corps restarted the program almost immediately, conducting analyses of alternatives from 2009 to 2012 before releasing a draft request for proposals in late 2012, according to NAVAIR.

Sikorsky competed for and won the contract in 2014, developing the dualpiloted, twin-engine helicopter based on its S-92A model.

According to the Office of the Director for Operational Test and Evaluation, or DOT&E, which oversees U.S. military program activity, the VH-92A program is progressing "on or ahead of schedule."

The aircraft will replace the current Marine Corps fleet ofVH-3D and VH-60N helicopters. Delivery of the first two engineering development models is planned for fiscal year 2018, followed by four system development test article aircraft in 2019, according to DOT&E. An operational assessment is planned for late 2018 to support a Milestone C decision in the second quarter of 2019.

The program did face some challenges in testing: The aircraft's unique fuel bladders did not pass drop tests and "mitigation efforts are ongoing," according to DOT&E. The office's report also noted some challenges in connecting to the crisis management system and the executive airlift command network, adding that "work on solving these challenges is ongoing."

A 2016 Government Accountability Office report noted the program was "progressing largely as planned."

The first flight of a VH-92A-configured aircraft is planned for the summer of 2017, according to NAVAIR spokes-woman Kelly Burdick.

The program seems steady for now, said Todd Harrison, director of the Aero-space Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D. …

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