Procurement: Who Screwed the ARH-70?

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July 10, 2007: The U.S. Army's new scout helicopter, is in danger of dying of indigestion. One problem after another is delaying the ARH-70 from entering service, and there's increasing risk that the ARH-70 will simply be cancelled.

A side effect of the cancellation of the Comanche helicopter in 2004, which was perceived as too expensive and complex for army needs, was the adoption of two commercial helicopters, to take up the slack. The 2.8 ton ARH-70 (a militarized Bell-407), was to replace the elderly OH-58D scout helicopter, while the 3.6 ton UH-72A (a militarized EC145) will supplement the UH-60 for transportation and other jobs, and replace many of the UH-1s now being phased out of reserve units. In both cases, much was made of how quickly these two birds could be obtained, because both were "off-the-shelf", and would be using existing military equipment.

All went according to plan with the UH-72A, which is now in service. But the ARH-70 ran into problems getting the electronic systems adapted to the Bell-407. This should not have been a difficult problem. Both the contractors and the military people said so. The adaptation and integration went ahead without a hitch on the UH-72A, which costs about $6 million each.

So what happened with the ARH-70? Studies are currently underway. It is already known that the electronics intended for militarizing the Bell-407 were not as ready for prime time as advertised. Eventually, these investigations will produce two different versions of what happened. One version will describe bad leadership and poor supervision. The other version will detail unforeseen problems and mighty attempts to overcome them.

While the contractor is almost always the most to blame in these situations, the military people overseeing the work are often at fault as well. The military has lots of rules, many of them stupid, and the more competent procurement officers help the contractor from getting tripped up by the red tape. However, both the contractor and the military want to cover their collective butts, and avoid taking any blame. Congress is less tolerant of this drill these days, and is increasingly prone to seek retribution, especially against contractors.

Meanwhile, the ARH-70 is late. Perhaps indefinitely late, as the contractor now wants $10 million per helicopter, rather than the initial estimate of $5 million per chopper. The original schedule called for the ARH-70 to enter service next year. Now it appears that it will take another three years.

 


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