|AW101 undergoing VH-71 testing near the Lockheed facility in Owego, New York|
|Role||Executive transport helicopter|
Bell Helicopter (assembly)
|First flight||3 July 2007|
|Primary user||United States Marine Corps|
|Number built||9 (VH-71A)|
|Unit cost||US$400 million (average procurement cost)|
|Developed from||AgustaWestland AW101|
The Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel is a variant of the AgustaWestland AW101 (formerly EH101), that was being developed to replace the United States Marine Corps' Marine One U.S. Presidential transport fleet. It was being produced by the Lockheed Martin–led "US101 Team" of Lockheed Martin Systems Integration – Owego (LMSI), AgustaWestland and Bell Helicopter.
In February 2009, President Barack Obama asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates about placing the project on hold or canceling it because of its high cost; over $13 billion for the planned 28 helicopters. In June 2009, the U.S. Navy terminated the contract and said remaining funds would be spent to upgrade to the existing Presidential fleet of VH-3D and VH-60N helicopters. The VH-71 helicopters were then sold to Canada for use as spare parts for its fleet of AgustaWestland CH-149 Cormorant search and rescue helicopters.
The AgustaWestland AW101, originally designated as EH101, was originally developed and produced by EH Industries, a joint venture between the British Westland Helicopters and Italian Agusta companies; Westland merged with Agusta in 2001. On 23 July 2002, Lockheed Martin and AgustaWestland signed a 10-year agreement to jointly market, produce and support a medium-lift helicopter, an AW101 derivative designated US101, in the United States. The companies envisaged the aircraft performing three major roles; United States Air Force combat search and rescue, U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue, and U.S. Marine Corps executive transport.
On 15 May 2003, AgustaWestland signed an agreement with Bell Helicopter to undertake final assembly of the US101 in the United States. Under the pact, AgustaWestland would produce the main rotor blades and main fuselage sections at its Yeovil, UK, facility. The company would produce other components, including the gearbox, at its Cascina Costa, Italy facility. This represents a work share of 36%. The remaining 64% work share is split between Lockheed Martin (31%) and Bell Helicopter (27%) and others (6%).
On 18 December 2003, the United States Department of Defense issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to supply 23 helicopters to replace the 11 VH-3Ds and 8 VH-60Ns of the Marine Corps' HMX-1 squadron, which performs the role of Presidential helicopter transportation. This requirement was given the designation of VXX. Two companies, AgustaWestland and Sikorsky Aircraft responded to the VXX request for proposals (RFP).
Sikorsky had proposed the VH-92, a variant of the H-92 Superhawk, in partnership with FlightSafety International, L-3 Communications, Northrop Grumman, Rockwell Collins, Vought Aircraft Industries, and GE-Aviation. On 28 January 2005, the Department of Defense announced that it had selected the US101 as the winner. It has been speculated that the US101's three engines had been a decisive factor over the rivaling twin-engined VH-92. The US101 team was awarded a US$1.7 billion contract for the System Development and Demonstration phase. In July 2005, the US101 was given the designation VH-71 Kestrel.
Delays and engineering issues plagued the VH-71's development. By 2007, the estimated cost of developing and modifying the aircraft had risen by 40% to $2.4 billion and had passed the $4.2 billion expected for the production of the fleet. In March 2008, the program cost had risen and was projected to cost a total $11.2 billion, or about $400 million per helicopter.
During dialogue over the CSAR-X (in which the EH101 was LMSI's offering), the Air Force Source Selection Authority (SSA) had stated the VH-71's program's performance had been "unsatisfactory". In March 2007, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, upholding Sikorsky and Lockheed's protests against Boeing's HH-47, mentioned "LMSI had received a little confidence rating for past performance due to unsatisfactory performance under its current contract for the VH-71 Presidential helicopter, which was evaluated as the most highly relevant to this procurement." The SSA stated that LMSI had "show[n] that it could not reliably meet important schedule requirements and had difficulty in systems engineering flow-downs to their subcontractors." Lockheed responded that government insistence on extensive modifications, not anticipated in the RFP, as the source of the cost overruns. A later GAO report in 2011 concluded that development of the VH-71 was not allowed flexibility or trade-offs considered by the customer.
In December 2007, DoD officials met with the White House Military Office to discuss the program's future; the Pentagon had apparently wanted to terminate the VH-71 due to setbacks, budget issues, and design problems. The White House overruled a decision to cancel; the program was effectively placed on hold while options were considered. In July 2008, the VH-71A (also called Increment 1) was to reach operating capability in 2010. The second phase of the development, VH-71B (Increment 2) was expected to start entering service in 2017.
In October 2008, while commenting on defense programs likely to be cut following the change in government, John Young, the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, stated that the VH-71 "is very high on that list". The rising cost of VH-71 program contrasted poorly with Barack Obama's stance on curbing government spending; during a White House gathering in February 2009 President Obama commented that the procurement process had "gone amok and we are going to have to fix it." He additionally stated that "The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me." In March 2009 the projected total cost for the planned 28 VH-71s was over $13 billion. On 6 April 2009 the proposed Defense budget announced by Defense Secretary Robert Gates had not included funding for the VH-71. On 1 June 2009, the United States Navy announced that the contract was officially canceled, remaining funds were to be reinvested in upgrades to the existing fleet of VH-3D and VH-60N helicopters.
The aircraft's cancellation provoked commentators to speak out about its impact on future acquisition contracts with European businesses. The failure by the Department of Defense acquisition process as demonstrated by the VH-71 may scare away potential partners. Around March 2009, a coalition of lawmakers encouraged the Administration to continue a variation of the VH-71 program. A letter issued by several members of Congress urged the President to support a VH-71 program. On 22 July 2009 the House Appropriations Committee approved $485 million to make five VH-71As operational.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) estimated that shutting down VH-71 production, upgrading the existing fleet, and later implementing a successor program would cost $14–$21 billion. It was reported not only that a new fleet would not be available until 2024 (at which point the existing helicopters would have remained in service while being over 50 years old), but that terminating the existing program would waste more than $3 billion in sunk VH-71 costs. Following the President’s decision to terminate the program a variety of law makers, think tanks and media outlets publicly concluded it would be more cost effective and less time consuming to continue with a variation of the existing VH-71 program.
In 2009, the CRS proposed four options for the current VH-71 program. Option 1 was to continue with VH-71 program with Increment I and II versions; the additional cost was estimated at $10 billion and the entry into service date was 2019. Option 2 was to restructure VH-71 program to provide 23 Increment I aircraft; at an additional cost of $6.4 billion and would be operational by 2012. Option 3 was to restructure VH-71 program to provide 19 Increment I aircraft to replace current fleet; the additional cost for this option was estimated at $5.6 billion and the entry into service by 2012. The last option was to upgrade and extend life of current fleet at a cost of $1.4 billion; however this would not meet the standards required for future presidential helicopters, and would require replacement sooner.
In addition to the cost of a new procurement program, industry officials say that to merely extend the operating life of the current fleet is a risky choice because it is both less secure and costly to maintain. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, including Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) have been outspoken critics of the Pentagon in the matter—Bartlett recently claiming that "they had this conversation outside the partnership and we regret that." Loren Thompson, an analyst for the Lexington Institute, stated "I do not believe that the story of VH-71 is over... Secretary Gates has not made a convincing case for terminating the program, and there is no alternative helicopter that can satisfy range and payload requirements while still landing on the White House lawn."
On 19 December 2009, President Barack Obama signed a joint House and Senate Defense Appropriation Bill for FY 2010, which includes $130 million funding for the Marine One program: $100 million to recoup technologies developed under the VH-71 Kestrel program, and $30 million for the Navy's initial studies on a new VH-XX program. In February 2010, the Navy issued a request for information to the aviation industry. In April 2010, Lockheed Martin announced they would team with Sikorsky in offering the Sikorsky S-92 instead of the VH-71. In June 2010, Boeing announced it is considering a U.S.-built licensed version of the AgustaWestland AW101 for the renewed VXX program; Boeing is also considering the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey and Boeing CH-47 Chinook.
In June 2011, nine VH-71s were purchased for $164 million by Canada for use as spare parts for its fleet of AgustaWestland CH-149 Cormorant search and rescue helicopter, which is also based upon the AW101. In 2013, media reports stated Canada is studying if up to four of the VH-71s can be certified for operational use.
The first test VH-71A, Test Vehicle #2 (TV-2), made its initial flight on 3 July 2007 at AgustaWestland's facility in Yeovil in the UK. Lockheed Martin also used an EH101, designated TV-1, for initial testing in the United States; these tests included landing on the lawn of the White House.
The first production VH-71A, Pilot Production #1 (PP-1), made its maiden flight on 22 September 2008 from Yeovil. The US Air Force transported the helicopter in a C-17 Globemaster III to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland for further testing. The first production VH-71 joined the test program at NAS Patuxent River, beginning ground testing in early December 2008.
The US101 is also competing for two USAF contracts, the 141-aircraft Combat Search and Rescue Replacement (CSAR-X) project (originally won by the Boeing HH-47 on 10 November 2006, but now subject to a second procurement competition), and the 70-aircraft Common Vertical Lift Support Program (CVLSP).
Specifications with an asterisk (*) next to them are specifically for the VH-71. All others are for EH101/AW101.
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