Congress to Army: Why buy Apaches that can't fly?


Top Army acquisition officials had some explaining to do Friday when a House Armed Services Committee member accused the service of buying helicopters that don’t fly and withholding details about major field radio program.

“It appears the Army has been paying for [AH-64] Apaches … without transmissions,” said Rep. Loretta Sanchez, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee. “Could you explain why the Army could take delivery of a helicopter that can’t fly?”

Lt. Gen. William Phillips, the Army's top uniformed acquisition official, assured Sanchez that the Army only accepts complete aircraft from Boeing, the lead contractor for the Apache.

But in some cases the Army allows Boeing “to take that transmission out and put it back into the production line” until the remaining transmissions arrive from Northstar Aerospace, the subcontractor that produces the transmissions, Phillips said.

As soon as those seven Apaches in question get those transmissions back, they will go to the next unit preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, Phillips said.

“We want as many aircraft available for that unit so they can train and get ready to go,” Phillips said.

The alternative would be to shutdown the production line.

“If we shut down the production line, it would impact supply operations in over 41 states and over 300 companies and it would also cost us more money,” Phillips said.

But that wasn’t the only scolding Army officials had to take during the hearing.

Sanchez also chastised the Army for being nine months late in sending the subcommittee its strategy for the Joint Tactical Radio System, a key part of the service’s network effort that involves a $400 million request in the Army’s fiscal 2014 proposed spending plan.

“The Army’s plans for buying these radios have changed quite a bit over the last few years,” Sanchez said. “I am very concerned that the Army is almost a full year late providing the Congress with the plans to proceed with the various parts of JTRS.”

Phillips apologized for the delay but assured the subcommittee that JTRS program -- which includes new Rifleman Radios capable of connecting individual soldiers with higher levels of command in the network -- will soon move forward.

The Army plans to issue three requests for proposal this year for three different JTRS radios, Phillips said.

“We are going to execute a full-and-open competition,” Phillips said. “We know that industry can produce these radios cheaper, faster and better than we could have done in the program of record.”

Phillips didn’t offer any details of when the RFPs would be released to industry.

Sanchez said she wanted to make sure that the competition would be as inclusive as possible.

“There are always ways to narrow the people who can go after a contract,” said Sanchez, explaining that she had spent time as a consultant working with the defense industry.

“If we are going to take the time to do this -- and I don’t have a dog in this fight ---

I just want to make sure that the type of competition you do allows us to get as a good a piece of equipment as we need for as reasonable a price as possible.”

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