After much concern about delays in production deliveries of Bell helicopter Textron's [TXT] H-1, the program is now delivering to the agreed upon contract schedule and all of the Lot 1 aircraft will be in the Navy's hands over the next two months, a Marine Corps official said.
The Navy has taken delivery of six Lot 1 helicopters and the remaining three, currently in flight demonstrations at Bell's Amarillo, Texas, facility, will be delivered in the coming weeks, Col. Keith Birkholz, H-1 program manager told Defense Daily in a recent interview.
`"I think we are going to get two aircraft here in the next three to four weeks and then the third one will deliver by the end of October, early November. And that will complete our Lot 1 deliveries of nine aircraft--that is six UH-1Ys and three AH-1 Zs," he said.
Lot 2 aircraft will deliver in the next calendar year and, by the end of '08, the Navy will complete delivery of Lots 1, 2 and 3, Birkholz added.
"The most significant part of that is getting all those aircraft delivered. That takes us up to 23 aircraft. Those 23 gets us the sufficient number of airframes we need to complete all the testing which has already started, complete all the training, which has already started and to IOC (initial operational capability) by September. '08," he said. "More importantly, what the Marine Corps is targeting right now, they would like to have nine UH-1Ys, which is a squadron worth, ready to deploy to support [the global war on terror] by the March or April '09 timeframe...about 18 months from now. So there are hundreds of activities and thousands of details already being worked to make sure that is a success."
On July 18, three days before stepping down as the Pentagon's acquisition chief, Kenneth Krieg approved a plan to restructure the H-1 upgrade program.
Under the terms of the changes, the H-1 program "adds a fourth low-rate initial production lot in Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 and delays full-rate production until FY 2008," states an information paper on the H-1 Upgrades Program acquisition decision issued on July 18 by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and initialed by Krieg. (Defense Daily, July 19).
Bell is under contract to remanufacture 180 AH-1W Cobra attack helicopters for the Marine Corps and 100 UH-1N Huey utility helicopters into four-bladed AH-1Z and UH-1Y models (Defense Daily, June 26, 2006).
However, the company ran into difficulties that prevented it from meeting the delivery schedules and thrust into question its capacity to execute the program successfully, all of which led to the restructure (Defense Daily, Feb. 27).
The plan being looked at currently calls for all of the Marine Corps' UH-1Ys to be built new as of Lot 3, Birkholz said.
That move was approved in the president's '06 budget, he noted.
"We will not be remanufacturing any of the airframes any longer," Birkholz said. "Only the first 10 UH-1Ys are being remanufactured from HH-1Ns or UH-1Ns. Some of the problems we discovered on the Bell production line were directly tied to the very old airframes we pulled out of AMARC (Aerospace Maintenance And Regeneration Center)...the mothball preservation facility...and we inflicted variability on the production line because of those very old airframes. So we went to Congress and asked for the non-recurring engineering to be able to build those airframes brand new. That was approved in '06."
All of that engineering has taken place and the Navy has delivered two of the complete UH-1Y new cabins from L-3's [LLL] Crestview Aerospace. The company is using a new facility outside of Mobile, Ala., to build the cabins for the Marine Corps.
The second cabin shipped last week to Bell's Amarillo facility, Birkholz noted.
In January 2006, Crestview Aerospace Corp. was awarded an eight-year contract, worth more than $100 million from Bell for the production of UH-1Y helicopter airframe structures.
L-3 Communications agreed to acquire Crestview Aerospace in May '06.
"So all of the cabins will be built 100 percent new. That should also minimize the impact to the fleet as far as pulling UH-1Ns off the flight line and it also should help with the learning and stability of the production assembly line there at Amarillo," Birkholz said.
The Navy will ramp up to 28 aircraft by FY '11, Birkholz said. "And then that's basically our steady state."
"I think FY '13 is 27 at the moment. The Marine Corps would like to bump that up if they could, but when POM (program objective memorandum) '10 opens up, it should open up with FY '14 and '15 with 27 aircraft each, which I consider a good number because our current HMLA (Marine Light Attack Helicopter) squadrons are 18 Cobras and nine Hueys," he said. "So, by buying 27 a year, we can transition one squadron per year once we get up to 27, 28 aircraft per year in the budget and I think we hit that mark in FY '10...'11."