A House Armed Services Committee (HASC) member pushed the Army’s likely next chief of staff to consider the potential supply chain impact of delaying upgrades to the service’s CH-47F Chinook fleet at a hearing May 9.
Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) questioned Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville on the potential impact of pushing off Block II upgrades to the Boeing [BA]-made heavy-life helicopter to the program’s down-chain industry suppliers.
“If the Chinooks that are currently in service are not replaced with the Block IIs, … what is the plan for sustaining them and that fleet through the 2030s and 2040s?” she asked at the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee hearing Thursday. Boeing builds the Chinook at its Ridley Park Facility in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, which sits in Houlahan’s district.
“When you make decisions like this decision to no longer fund the Block II upgrades, you’ve made decisions down the supply chain as well,” said Houlahan, an Air Force veteran and freshman lawmaker. “Do you anticipate that there will be any implications – small businesses or suppliers or businesses going out of business – and what would be the plan if that were the case to make sure that you could sustain the existing fleet?”
McConville, who has been nominated to replace Gen. Mark Milley as the next Army Chief of Staff, said service leadership has recently met with Boeing to discuss the potential impact on the supply chain.
He noted that service leaders had to make “some tough decisions as far as modernization” in the fiscal year 2020 budget request.
The Army had previously planned to upgrade its entire fleet of 542 Chinooks to the Block II configuration, but the service’s FY ’20 budget proposal includes funds for only nine Special Operations Command MH-47Gs. Only the MH-47G Block II variant is included in the out years, not the CH-47F configuration, of which production was due to start in FY ’21.
The Army is “very concerned about the organic industrial base, the ability to maintain that capability,” McConville noted at the hearing, adding, “What the Army right now is committed to doing is we are buying CH-47F and Block IIs for our special operations regiments.”
McConville reiterated comments Army Acquisition Chief Bruce Jette made in a previous HASC subcommittee hearing that the service anticipates foreign military sales could help make up the difference in Chinook sales to keep the manufacturing line open (Defense Daily, May 1).
“What we want to do is to keep the line going for the next couple of years, and then we’ll be in a position to make a decision on how we” move forward with the program, he said. “Do we recap Block Is and Block IIs? Do we sustain them, or do we come up with a new way of doing that mission in the future?”
Industry should be eyeing the Army’s future modernization efforts for business opportunities, he added.
“What we’re recommending to industry is, listen to what we’re saying, produce these aircraft, compete for these new system. …That’s what’s going to drive the subs and everything else for the next 40-50 years.”