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CRS Offers Prez Helo Options

The Congressional Research Service possesses some of the most acute and reliable defense analysts in town. CRS has laid out four options for their lawmaker leaders to consider as they try to figure out what the heck to do with those VH-71 birds just itching to fly President Obama around. The options range from restructuring the current program and building 23 VH-71s to retrofitting the current fleet. The folks at AvWeek got their hands on the primer and their story appears below.

Capitol Hill researchers have laid out four options for providing a presidential helicopter, ranging from tweaking the VH-71 program of record to just upgrading the legacy fleet.

In its June 5 primer for U.S. lawmakers, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) attempted to take some of the heated rhetoric out of the VH-71 cancellation dispute raging between the Hill and the Pentagon by evaluating alternatives to terminating the program outright.

Four options were examined by CRS:

• Continue with the VH-71 program in its current form, with some restructuring, and procure 23 Increment II aircraft;

• Restructure the program to provide a total of 23 Increment I aircraft, including the five pilot-production Increment I aircraft already procured;

• Restructure the program to include one-for-one replacement of the existing 19-aircraft fleet with new Increment I aircraft;

• Upgrade and extend the existing fleet and pursue no new helicopter program of any kind for the next several years.

If the program is kept as-is, the Increment II aircraft would achieve initial operational capability (IOC) in FY 2019 at the earliest, according to the researchers. The Navy Department estimates the acquisition cost of this option at $13 billion or more, including sunk costs of $3 billion, CRS reported. Restructuring the program to provide 23 Increment I aircraft instead would put IOC at mid-2012 at a cost of $9.4 billion. That doesn’t include, however, the cost of maintaining and upgrading the existing fleet until the new aircraft comes online.

Over the next few months, Congress will have to determine just how urgent the need is to replace the VH-3D/VH-60N fleet and how much capability do the existing Increment I helicopters provide. There have been a number of different figures emerging from the Navy about the true service life of Increment I aircraft. The CRS report cites a March 30 Navy information paper to Congress that pegged it at 1,500 flight hours. But based on the EH-101, the base VH-71 aircraft, the helicopter should be good up to 10,000 hours.

In a recent teleconference sponsored by the Lexington Institute, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) said, “There’s some confusion about the present [Increment I] helicopters. Ask the Navy about it and they will give you the best of each [aircraft] as though it’s a hybrid. We need them to come clean with us.”

According to that Navy information paper, the service did not pursue a full fatigue life certification of 10,000 hours because Increment I was only supposed to be an interim solution until even more capable Increment II aircraft were provided.

Aviation Week's DTI | Bettina H. Chavanne | June 08, 2009 This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

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