Murphy's Law: ARH-70 Lost In Development Hell

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February9, 2007: The U.S. Army was supposed to get the first of its new ARH-70 scout helicopters by September, 2008. But now it looks like the first one won't be ready until 2010. It gets worse. The ARH-70 was supposed to cost $5.2 million each. But now the manufacturer, Bell Helicopter, wants nearly $10 million per aircraft. The army originally wanted to buy 368 ARH-70s. But with the delays and price increases, that number will likely shrink. Bell got the contract in July, 2005.

The 2.8 ton ARH-70A is a militarized Bell 407. The helicopter it is replacing, the OH-58D, is itself a militarized version of the older Bell 206. ARH stands for or armed reconnaissance helicopter. ARH-70 has a max speed of 243 kilometers an hour, and max range of 577 kilometers. It was supposed to be a straightforward conversion. A new engine and tail assembly, plus adding a fire control and weapons system similar to that installed in the OH-58D. But problems were encountered, that will take time, and a lot of money, to fix. If you follow defense procurement, you've heard that many times before.

The OH-58D Kiowa Warrior has a top speed of 226 kilometers per hour, and a range of 241 kilometers. It has a mast-mounted sight, which carries a powerful FLIR (heat sensing camera) and a laser designator. The OH-58D is lightly armed, and usually only carries four Hellfire (anti-vehicle) or Stinger (anti-aircraft) missiles, or 70mm unguided 14 rockets.

The delays and price increases are attributed to the usual problems. The manufacturer over-promised, and the army keeps adding new features to the fire control and cockpit electronics. The manufacturer knows how this works, and has lawyers, tech writers and public relations teams standing by to come up with perfectly good, and legal, reasons for the delays and cost increases. The military, and the taxpayers, usually relent and pay up. Not always, but usually. Collective amnesia then sets in, and the process is repeated endlessly.

 


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