Later this year, the VH-92A presidential helicopter program will complete an operations assessment before heading to a decision in mid-2019 on whether to proceed to the acquisition phase of the program, the Marine Corps officer managing the program said last week.

Negotiations are ongoing to acquire 21 total helicopters, contingent on the VH-92A achieving milestone C status, Col. Eric Ropella, the program manager, said in a briefing at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space conference at National Harbor in Maryland.

One of the "green" S-92s flies at Lockheed Martin's Owego, N.Y., campus. Photo: Sikorsky.
One of the “green” S-92s flies at Lockheed Martin’s Owego, N.Y., campus. Photo: Sikorsky.

“We have a proposal right now from Sikorsky for the remaining aircraft; we’re in the early phases of evaluating that proposal,” Ropella said. “Our goal is to work through the negotiations, terms and conditions of that. Hopefully we’ll have that done before [December].”

Lockheed Martin’s [LMT] Sikorsky unit is four years into its $1.2 billion engineering and manufacturing development contract to replace the in-service U.S. presidential helicopter fleet with its VH-92A. The presidential helicopter replacement program was awarded to Sikorsky in May 2014, to replace the Marine Helicopter Squadron One’s current in-service fleet of VH-3D and VH-60N aircraft.

Sikorsky is using a variant of its S-92A, modified with government defined mission systems and executive interior for the VH-92A, which completed its first flight in July 2017.

Currently, Sikorsky is wrapping up the build process for the first two test aircraft that completed the first two flights last year. Toward the end of 2018, the VH-92 operational test team will complete an operations assessment of the aircraft. Data collected from the operations test will be used by Ropella’s team for the achievement of milestone C, which is planned to occur mid-2019.

The Defense Department’s milestone decision authority uses milestone C for the purpose of completing the development phase of a newly acquired aircraft to provide approval to the manufacturer to enter the production and deployment phase.

There will be a total of 23 aircraft purchased for the presidential helicopter replacement program — including 17 production helicopters, four for training and the remaining two for testing. The Marine Corps is to purchase the 17 production aircraft over the course of three years, between fiscal years 2019 and 2021.

Operational testing for the VH-92As will be completed at the Naval Air Systems Command facility in Patuxent River, Md., Ropella said.

The VH-92A fleet that is scheduled to enter service in 2020 does not currently have any planned major technological upgrades. VH-92As will, however, take advantage of an extra multi-functional display (MFD) in the cockpit, an upgrade option that Sikorsky offers on the commercial variant of the S-92A.

“We’re not going to make any changes while in development. But with all aircraft, changes need to be made for obsolescence or new capability,” Ropella said. “One example I’ll give is the safety/situational awareness upgrade to add another MFD to the cockpit. Right now the baseline S-92 comes with four … there’s two on the pilot and co-pilot sides, this one would be in the center.”

Production for the VH-92A is scheduled to continue through 2023, according to the Navy.