DH - Defence Helicopter

CH-53K programme back on track, report claims

7th April 2011 - 11:10 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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The US Marine Corps (USMC) CH-35K helicopter programme has ‘made progress and adopted strategies’ in response to the cost and time difficulties it faced in its early stages, a new report has found.

The CH-53K Heavy Lift Replacement (HLR) programme was introduced as a solution to the USMC’s ‘critical shortage’ of heavy lift aircraft in 2005, and since then Sikorsky, the manufacturer, and the force have faced a variety of problems, according to the report, released on 4 April by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Since the start of the programme, the increase from 156 to 200 platforms over the period of the contract, alongside schedule delays, caused the total cost of the programme to grow by some $6.8 billion – from $18.8 billion to $25.5 billion.

The delivery of the CH-53K is currently scheduled for 2018, a delay of some three years.

‘Development cost growth and schedule delays resulted from beginning development before determining how to achieve requirements within programme constraints,’ said the GAO, which conducted its analysis from February 2010 through to March 2011.

In addition, miscommunication between the programme office and the prime contractor with regards to systems engineering tasks was blamed, as was the late staffing by both the programme office and the contractor.

However the HLR has ‘made progress addressing the difficulties it faced early in the systems development’, and after a successful critical design review (CDR) in July, mitigation strategies have been adopted to address future programme risk. These included weight improvement plans to locate areas where weight can be reduced, and creating working groups to reduce the risk to the overall capabilities of the platform.

In its new acquisition strategy, outlined in the Pentagon’s FY2012 budget, previous pragmatic issues were addressed, including aligning the cost estimate with the current schedule, and sorting early staffing issues.

The programme received permission to defer three performance capabilities and relax two technical metrics associated with operating and support costs, deemed by the GAO to be ‘sound acquisition decisions’.

Although the USMC will have to rely on the costly, less capable ‘legacy aircraft’ until the CH-53K is completed, the report pointed out that the quantity increase in the aircraft reflected the increase in marines recruits, which went from 174,000 to 202,000.

In February it was announced that the number of troops may decrease again by some 20,000, but that the USMC had determined that the 200 aircraft-requirement remained valid.

The report stated that schedule delays have led to a 39% increase in the development cost, a 35% increase in the estimated programme procurement cost, and the average estimated procurement cost per unit increasing by some 5%, but that the raises were relative to the increase in demand.

The CH-53K is derived from the Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter, and is expected to ‘maintain the same shipboard footprint’ while providing lift, reliability, maintainability, and cost improvements. It will to be able to transport external loads of 27,000lb over a 110-mile nautical range under high-hot conditions without refuelling, and will fulfil land and sea-based heavy lift requirements.

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