The U.S. Air Force fiscal 2022 budget request contains no acquisition funding for Boeing [BA] MH-139A helicopters, as the service awaits Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification of the aircraft.
In fiscal 2021, the Air Force received $194 million for eight MH-139As–the Air Force version of the Leonardo AW139 commercial helicopter.
“One of the challenges we run into is the MH-139 is built on a commercial platform where we add military equipment to it,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown told a Senate Appropriations Committee defense panel hearing on June 8 in response to a question from Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the panel’s chairman, on the status of the program.
“In the process of testing, we ran into a couple of issues on the military application added to the commercial helicopter,” he said. “We’re resolving that piece and continuing testing with the rest of the MH-139, and the intent here is to get to about the second quarter of FY ’23 when we expect to have the delivery of the MH-139s which is part of the reason why we did not go into procurement in this particular budget cycle…to complete the testing.”
The helicopters are to replace the service’s 63 Bell [TXT] UH-1N helicopters to provide security and support of the U.S. military’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fields, civil search-and-rescue capabilities, airlift support and doomsday VIP transportation.
At the June 8 SAC-D hearing, Tester said that the MH-139s are “vital to our ICBM bases.”
“In Montana, these helicopters were supposed to be here in the fall of 2021,” he said. “They’re projected to be there in the fall of 2023, but this [Air Force fiscal 2022] budget looks to me like they’re not even going to be there in the fall of 2023.”
Brown and acting Air Force Secretary John Roth, however, suggested at the hearing that the helicopters will be in Montana by the fall of 2023 and that the MH-139 delay is minor.
“That delay is just a matter of months,” Roth testified at the June 8 hearing. “The contract award in fiscal year ’22 was scheduled for the fourth quarter and because of the slippage in the FAA certification, it’s now slipping into FY ’23. The [fiscal] ’22 money was actually unexecutable so we simply made a bit of a budget shift, and the delay there is months, not years.”