GAO Concerned about MH-139 Weight
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in its Defense Acquisitions Annual Assessment reports that the new USAF helicopters may not be able to meet all performance requirements if the final weight of the aircraft exceeds design parameters
* The Boeing MH-139A Grey Wolf is based on the Leonardo AW139 manufactured in Philadelphia and was chosen by the U.S. Air Force to replace the 1970s UH-1N Huey fleet as the ICBM nuclear missiles sites new guard helicopter. The MH-139 is currently in development phase at Duke Field, FL with the goal to reach a low-rate initial production decision by September 2021
GAO, June 15, 2020 - The UH-1N Replacement program plans to procure a militarized version of a commercial helicopter that will be integrated with previously developed—or non-developmental—items (NDI).
Accordingly, the program is not developing technologies for the helicopter. Through this acquisition approach, the program office intends to facilitate an expedited delivery schedule.
In September 2018, the Air Force approved an acquisition program baseline and the program entered system development. Although the program is considered non-developmental, the Air Force determined that it needed this phase to facilitate contractor modifications to the existing helicopter design. During this phase, the contractor is integrating technologies and conducting developmental testing.
The program completed its critical design review in June 2019, 5 months ahead of schedule. However, the helicopter, as it is currently designed, may not be able to meet all performance requirements if the final weight of the aircraft exceeds design parameters. If an appropriate weight is not achieved, the aircraft may not be able to meet requirements for speed or range. Air Force officials stated that they expect to determine the final weight of the aircraft in December 2019.
Additionally, Boeing identified that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may require additional testing to demonstrate the engine’s power before certifying the helicopter’s airworthiness, which could result in schedule delays or cost increases. However, program officials told us that based on discussions between Boeing and the FAA in December 2019, the FAA will allow Boeing to use existing data instead of requiring an additional test of engine power as part of the certification process. According to these officials, this will be reflected in an update to Boeing’s certification plan.
In 2019, the program took steps to reduce risk in advance of production, which contributed to development cost increases. For example, the Air Force modified the program schedule to include additional time for the non-developmental item integration effort, and the program delayed the purchase of initial helicopters by 1 year to align purchasing with the low rate production decision. Further, the program received approval in March 2019 to purchase two additional helicopters during the engineering and manufacturing development phase, which shifted some costs earlier in the program. Officials told us this would allow them to better understand the helicopters’ capabilities, reduce concurrency during testing, and allow personnel to be trained on the helicopters earlier.
Software and Cybersecurity
The program is modifying commercial software for its systems, communications, and training domains that it plans to have certified by the FAA. According to program officials, the program has been challenged to find contractor and government staff with required software expertise. The program does not track software work elements or total software cost, so we cannot assess the extent to which software may impact program’s overall cost estimate or schedule.
The program office has yet to determine whether the helicopter can meet DOD’s cybersecurity requirements. Opportunities to change the design to implement cybersecurity controls are limited under the program’s non-developmental item acquisition strategy. Program documentation indicates that the Air Force may not implement some cybersecurity controls, and as a result may accept operational risk. Program officials said they are implementing a risk management framework and a cybersecurity working group to understand the risks. Further, program officials stated that they plan to complete cyber resilience testing by 2020.
Other Program Issues
The Air Force Cost Analysis Agency estimated that Boeing may lose money on the contract starting in fiscal year 2023 and noted that strict adherence to program requirements could help the government avoid cost increases.
Program officials previously identified the hiring of testing staff and availability of test facilities as schedule risks. Program officials stated that they have hired sufficient testing staff and constructed needed facilities for use in testing.
Program Office Comments
We provided a draft of this assessment to the program office for review and comment. The program office provided technical comments, which we incorporated where appropriate. The program office stated that while final aircraft weight is a risk, the aircraft had an adequate weight margin at critical design review that the program has since maintained. It stated that in March 2019, the Milestone Decision Authority approved purchase of two additional helicopters during system development. The program office stated this increase allows the program to expedite training, mitigate schedule risk, field operational capability, and maintain assets for follow-on testing, if required. The office also stated that the program’s cyber test strategy facilitates testing on all but four systems on a non-production representative aircraft, lowering the risk for production.
The program office reported that the program is developing mitigation strategies to ensure it addresses remaining cybersecurity requirements.
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Boeing MH-139A Grey Wolf in US Air Force
See also USAF Selects MH-139 to Replace UH-1N Fleet
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USAF Defers MH-139 Acquisitions
USAF Delay Production of MH-139A Grey Wolf