On March 3, U.S. Air Force acquisition chief Andrew Hunter signed off on Milestone C for the Boeing [BA] and Leonardo MH-139A Grey Wolf to allow it to enter low-rate initial production (LRIP), Hunter told reporters on March 6 at the Air & Space Forces Association conference in Aurora, Colo.

“As part of that [Milestone C decision] process, we focused very heavily on technical data and made sure that there was a concrete plan,” Hunter said. “That’s been one of the challenges. Boeing signed up to delivering the technical data when they were awarded the [2018] contract, but Leonardo actually has the data, and they don’t have a contractual requirement currently to provide that so we worked very hard to make sure there was a concrete plan with the milestones and clear, ‘this will be achieved’ that aligned with our LRIP strategy.”

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has said that he wants his staff to ensure that the service gets contractor technical data up front to enable future competition on platform sustainment.

Prior to last Friday’s MH-139 Milestone C decision, Boeing said on March 7 that the company and Leonardo “worked collaboratively with the U.S. Air Force to jointly address source data.”

“We outlined a plan and delivered a detailed schedule to the Air Force that will satisfy the outstanding technical data requirements.,” per Boeing. “We are now focused on delivering the aircraft.”

The Air Force awarded Boeing a contract worth $2.38 billion in September, 2018 to include up to 84 MH-139As.

The MH-139As are to replace the Air Force’s 63 Bell [TXT] UH-1N helicopters to provide security and support of the U.S. military’s intercontinental ballistic missile fields, civil search-and-rescue capabilities, airlift support and doomsday VIP transportation.

Boeing and Leonardo on March 7 announced that their team has won a $285 million contract for the first 13 MH-139As and “sustainment and support.”

The companies said on March 7 that the Grey Wolf’s “enhanced capabilities allow it to accomplish missions more quickly, quietly, and efficiently.”

“With a 50 percent increase in speed and range and an increase of 5,000 pounds max gross weight, the aircraft can execute the U.S. Air Force’s mission of protecting intercontinental ballistic missiles across the country,” the companies said in a statement.

For the MH-139A, Boeing installs unique military equipment on Leonardo’s Philadelphia-built AW-139 commercial helicopter.

Last August, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio said that Boeing had received the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Supplemental Type Certifications (STCs) for the MH-139A to enter developmental testing (Defense Daily, Aug. 23, 2022).

AFLCMC said that the Air Force accepted four MH-139As for flight testing to lead to a Milestone C production decision. The acceptance of the four helicopters for flight testing happened “mere weeks” after Boeing completed the final FAA STC “required for the MH-139A to achieve its military flight release,” per AFLCMC.

Integration of two defensive systems on the MH-139A and FAA issuance of STCs on the MH-139A for those subsystems–the ALE-47 Airborne Countermeasures Dispenser System and the Northrop Grumman [NOC] AAR-47 Missile Warning System–resulted in FAA STC delays for the MH-139A (Defense Daily, June 23, 2021).

In June 2021, the Air Force said that the fairing that connects the ALE-47 and the AAR-47 to the MH-139 had caused airflow anomalies but that Boeing had redesigned the fairing and was testing it to validate the fix.

Florida-based Extant Aerospace has said that, since 2001, it has been the Air Force’s prime contractor for the BAE Systems-designed ALE-47. Extant Aerospace said that it buys OEM designs for older products, or licenses them from the builders, to allow OEMs to focus on new product development.

In June last year, Boeing said that the FAA certification process had taken longer than expected due to the difficulties in getting hands-on examiners because of COVID-19 and due to the complexity of FAA certification of the military-unique systems (Defense Daily, June 16).

A Boeing official said at the time that an STC for an electronic box for the MH-139A’s Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) had “never gone through an FAA certification because it’s military.”

Commercial aircraft converted to military versions need FAA-approved STCs for military-specific equipment.

In June 2021, Lt. Gen. Duke Richardson, at the time the service’s top uniformed acquisition official, told a Senate Armed Services Committee panel that the MH-139 requires three STCs from the FAA. Richardson is now the head of Air Force Materiel Command.

Air Force Lt. Col. Josh Hallford, the chief of MH-139 standardization and evaluations for MH-139 Test Detachment 7, said in an AFLCMC statement last August that “the built-in system redundancies and physical performance” of the MH-139A “show great potential for improving on the myriad of missions that have been covered by the venerable Huey for so long.”