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
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
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