USMC Heavy Lift: What's with the CH-53K?

by Craig Hooper on April 27, 2010

Earlier this month, the U.S. Marine Corps announced their much-needed CH-53K was going to experience a three year delay before reaching the field…but they didn’t really say way, exactly.  But all reasons aside, Aerospace Daily and Defense Report’s Bettina H. Chavanne reported on April 1 that the delay was “no surprise.”  (direct link not available; similar article here):

“The date slips come as no surprise to the Marines and the CH-53K program office at Naval Air Systems Command (Navair). In January 2009, program manager Capt. Rick Muldoon submitted a Program Deviation Report for the aircraft’s critical design review (CDR) to the Pentagon acquisition headquarters.”

Well, that’s quite a change from November 1, 2009, when Bettina H. Chavanne reported in cheap generic viagra

p://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/channel_dti.jsp?channel=dti”>Defense Technology International (no direct link available to the article, sorry) that the “aircraft is

tracking for a 2015 initial operational capability,” and:

“Navy Capt. Rick Muldoon, CH-53 program manager, is enthusiastic about the aircraft’s progress. “We’re currently tracking on all the key performance parameters, there are no technical issues with the design, the program design reviews have been completed, and we’re well into the critical design phase,” he says. Moreover, with congressional agreement on the Fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill, the Marine Corps now has the $554.8 million it requested for the program.”

What’s going on?  Why did the program go from “tracking on all the key performance parameters” to a multi-year delay…in a mere matter of months?

Or do the Marine Corps really just want to ruin one of their only bright spots in aviation procurement?

If the good Captain Muldoon had alerted headquarters to a potential problem in January 2009, why is he cheering the program in November?  And…more interestingly, what exactly did his bosses, um, tell Congress about the CH-53K?

Or is the Navy signaling it is unlikely to continue support heavy airlift from afloat platforms?  Is this a first step in the attenuation of the amphibious fleet?

More on that later.

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DJF May 6, 2010 at 6:39 am

Sounds like the new Presidential helicopter, everything is going great, 99 out of 100 requirements on schedule. Congratulations to the whole team. Oops, unfortunately the requirement that it could actually fly was not met because of all the equipment loaded onto the helicopter which meant that it weighed more then it could lift.

Sea Cappy May 3, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Everything is great in a weapon system program until it isn’t. You had to know this was coming. I’m sure the development hasn’t been as easy as the service (always) forecast. When was the last time the Marine Corps (or any branch) delivered a new system on time, within forecast costs, and with the promised capability? Defense acquisition is a complete joke.

Moose April 29, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Anyone cross-shopping CH-53K and MV-22 is just shopping for shiny toys, they haven’t even properly defined a mission yet. If Bell and Boeing are reliant on the shiny toy marketing pitch they’re in trouble 53K or no.

Craig Hooper April 29, 2010 at 3:43 am

Moose–Full disclosure, I do think the CH-53K stands to eat into some of the MV-22’s likely customer base and certain expeditionary missions.I wouldn’t like to have to compare the two, that’s fer darn sure…

Craig Hooper April 29, 2010 at 3:28 am

That’s what so odd about the CH-53K’s obfuscation…the program, in the past, has been very forthcoming about the technology snarls it has encountered–to the point where certain higher-risk technologies were simply set aside, even. That’s one of the reasons I find the current “no info information” rather distressing. Let’s have the dirty details.

Moose April 29, 2010 at 3:05 am

No argument here. One more sign that there’s plenty still broken under the procurement umbrella. Unfortunately, most of the defense reporters out there would rather poke fun at or bitch about technology snags and cost overruns rather than actually take the time to thoroughly REPORT on them. And because they’re as paranoid about becoming the target of those hits as they are about actually executing a contract faithfully, likely more the former than the latter, the industry’s not about to come clean.

Craig Hooper April 29, 2010 at 2:09 am

Moose-

I just wish the program manager (and upper management…and, uh, certain defense reporters) were consistent about the program’s health. Or gave us a little more specifics on the reason for the delay. Don’t tell us that there are no technical issues and that the program got it’s money and then….delay the program. That’s uncool. If it’s budget, be clear about where the budget shortfall came from–did the Marine Corps defund the baby? Or did DOD? If the Marines did, then, that suggests some things. If some amphib-hating bureaucrat in DOD defunded it, then that suggests something else entirely.

There’s room (and credibility) in this program to be clear about things. And we need the clarity–particularly given the potential for this thing to be sold other nations (and the desperate need we have to export stuff). There were other things that need to be factored into this decision that…may not have been sufficiently considered. But we can’t tell given the tidbits of info we poor general public folks have today.

And yeah, POM 12 is one ugly baby.

Moose April 29, 2010 at 12:27 am

Conspiracy theorists are claiming this is to keep the K out of the air until after the next Osprey multi-year buy is signed.

I’m less paranoid. Much has changed with the -K since the original CH-53X pitch was made, this is largely a new aircraft which was being developed on a variant’s timetable and budget. As soon as someone did a thorough review, which no surpise was not done by the previous administration, the aggressive timetable was going to stand out as problematic. This slide gives them more breathing room to hit the mark without a scramble that could lead to snowballing trouble.

J W April 28, 2010 at 1:21 pm

If I were a betting man, I would guess that the budget finally caught up with the programmers, and that they had to stretch program development out across the FYDP to keep their budget submission within control limits. POM 12 is been an ugly baby, and it keeps getting uglier.

drouse April 27, 2010 at 11:44 pm

In addition to the fact that someone should comment(eventualy), my thought is that it is solely a congressional battle between defense contracters. Who else is competeing for these dollars?

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