RIDLEY PARK, Pa.Boeing’s [BA] production level for Chinook heavy-lift helicopters will still be at a “minimum sustaining rate” after factoring in Germany’s plan to procure 60 of the new CH-47 Block II aircraft model, a lead program official said Tuesday.

“With the low-rate [production] that we have with the Army right now [for CH-47F Block II and] with Germany, we will still hover maybe a little bit over the minimum sustainable rate,” Heather McBryan, acting vice president and H-47 program manager, told reporters here. “But we’re certainly not back to where the comfort level would be for the industrial base.”

The first CH-47F Block II Chinook in final assembly at Boeing’s Ridley Park, PA facility. Photo: Matthew Beinart.

During a media visit to the company’s Ridley Park, Pennsylvania facility, McBryan said Boeing would like to get back to producing 30 to 36 Chinooks a year, across the different models. 

“That keeps the industrial base healthy. And that’s where you have stable suppliers, you’re not turning over suppliers as often,” said McBryan, who noted the Ridley Park plant has capacity to build 60 Chinooks per year.

McBryan said Boeing will deliver 20 Chinooks this year, with that number expected to dip down to 18 aircraft per year across the line. 

The Army has not included funding for CH-47F Block IIs in its recent budget requests as it assesses the path forward for the program, while Congress has added funds in final appropriations bills covering a few of the new aircraft to sustain what a Boeing program official previously called a “minimum sustainable rate” for the platform (Defense Daily, April 27). 

“I tell folks, it’s not what you want. It’s defined as ‘minimum sustainable’ for a reason, right? That’s what you need to just sustain, to be able to live,” Ken Eland, who recently retired from his role as Boeing’s vice president and H-47 program manager, told reporters in April.

McBryan added that producing at the minimum sustainable rate for an extended period of time increases risks of supplier turnover.

“When we talk about ‘minimum sustainable rate’ I always like to say it’s like you’re in your house in the winter and your heat’s at 50 degrees. You’re alive, you’re producing but you’re not comfortable, you’re not warm. You’re surviving,” McBryan said. “Because at those lower quantities, a lot of our suppliers will look at other activities to go put in their portfolio other than the minimum sustaining rate of these types of parts.”

McBryan echoed similar remarks from Eland in April that Boeing is confident there will be another congressional plus-up for fiscal year 2024 covering procurement of a few CH-47F Block IIs for the Army. 

“We’re moving forward. We appreciate all the congressional support we’ve been receiving,” McBryan said.

The first CH-47F Block II aircraft entered final assembly in March and will be delivered to the Army in early 2024, with a second aircraft also now in the final stages of production. 

The State Department on May 11 approved a potential $8.5 billion deal with Germany for 60 CH-47F Block IIs, after Berlin selected Boeing as the winner of its future heavy-lift helicopter competition last June (Defense Daily, May 11). 

“That was a hard fought campaign, as you know if you were tracking it. It was very competitive. But I think, at the end of the day, they decided on an aircraft that was very operable with NATO, that was cost effective, that met all of their mission requirements and that also delivered a very strong industry team,” Mike Spencer, Boeing’s director of vertical lift global business development, told reporters during the visit. 

Spencer said the next step in the process will be the German parliament’s consideration of a letter of acceptance from the U.S. on the deal, with the Army able to begin contract negotiations with Boeing after that letter is approved. 

Doug Bush, the Army’s top acquisition official, has cited international interest in the CH-47F Block II, to include the German procurement, as a key factor for additional production opportunities while the service continues assessing how it will proceed on the program.

“One thing that has changed is the good news that the German military has decided to buy the CH-47…which gives us an opportunity to retain that workforce whichever direction the Army ultimately goes. It buys us some more time,” Bush said during a House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee hearing last month.

McBryan reiterated that a Milestone C decision to move CH-47F Block II into full-rate production is expected at the end of this year for the FY ‘25 budget cycle, adding that a delay in that decision “increases the risk of that supplier turnover and that unhealthy industrial base.”

“We look forward to supporting the Army as they work toward making that decision at the end of this year. But I just want to relay the importance of the U.S. Army domestic Block II [production] as it relates to both here in Philadelphia and the industrial base,” McBryan said. “It’s a shame that getting that kind of capability in the warfighters’ hands would be delayed.”

The U.K. also has a plan to procure 14 extended-range CH-47F Block IIs, with McBryan noting production on those aircraft is expected to begin in early 2025 with deliveries starting in 2026 (Defense Daily, June 22 2021).