Citizens Against Government Waste makes a bad call.

I’m generally very sympathetic to CAGW’s purpose. Indeed, I hate gold-plating programs with a passion. One of the best things SecDef Gates has called for is the “80%” solution- programs that are very good at doing 80% of all possible tasks, for far less money than you’d need to spend on a “perfect” program.

Comes now news that the Air Force is at long last looking to replace its fleet of UH-1N helicopters. These durable birds have been serving since the early 1970s, and are due for replacement.  Buying UH-60M Blackhawks from the Army seems straightforward. After all, the whole point of the UH-60 design was to replace the Huey.

But CAGW sees the larger price tag, per unit, of the Blackhawks:

Citizens Against Government Waste — a non-partisan watchdog group — also has taken issue with the Air Force’s pursuit of the Black Hawk to replace the Huey.

“Instead of having an open competition for a helicopter that meets the CVLSP requirements, the Air Force wants to cut corners and buy a bigger, more expensive helicopter from the Army. This would be like buying Humvees to replace mail trucks,” the watchdog group wrote on its website.

CAGW is taking a very near-sighted look at this issue. Yes, the Air Force is pretty clearly trying to do an end-around the normal contracting procedure. Why? Because it is badly broken. The Air Force can’t run a competition without being sued by the loser of the competition. See “KC-X” or the “CSAR-X” programs. That takes time, and time is money. Let’s suppose the Air Force decided they wanted to buy the AW319, which is nominally a cheaper aircraft. What would the hidden costs be? Well, they’d have to run the new chopper through the entire Operational Test & Evaluation rigmarole, something they won’t have to do with UH-60s. They’d have to establish an entirely new training pipeline, from aircrews to mechanics. They’d have to establish and manage an entirely new logistics pipeline for thousands of unique parts. They’d have to establish entire libraries of maintenance and operations manuals. With the UH-60, a basic platform they already use, they’d have to make only minimal changes.

Buying the UH-60 comes with a fixed, known cost, and can be done now. But buying any other aircraft, or even just running a competition, even if the Blackhawk wins, introduces both delays into the program, and price uncertainties. Further, does anyone think that if there was an open competition for the CVLSP, the Air Force wouldn’t succumb to the temptation to load the requirements up with goodies that should really be in the “nice, but not needed” category?

We see a classic case of a simple solution to what is frankly a very simple problem. And yet, people are determined to make it complicated. 

13 thoughts on “Citizens Against Government Waste makes a bad call.”

  1. At least the USAF is willing to look at UH/HH-60s. Try convincing the USMC to buy an army-developed helicopter… They wouldn’t carry more than four pax on their UH-1Ns. I met more than one -46 pilot that would really like a ‘hawk.

  2. No one, other than a ‘very few Guard’ units are still flying the Huey. Almost every NG, AR & active Army unit are flying Blackhawks.
    Don’t get me wrong. The Huey is a wonderful machine, but the services are demanding much more from an airframe than they were back in ‘my day’ (late ’60s – early ’70s).
    Back in “The Day”, it all revolved around the pilot. Today, it is all about the GPS and the ‘NAV-Aids’, and the resources of “Central Command”. The aircraft commander don’t mean shit. It’s bullshit and reflects the current “PC” crap that “It’s not your fault” abdication of responsibility.
    But, at this point, WTF do I know.
    The “Chair-Force” has always had their “own Special Requirements” that could not be met by matching the Army, Marines, Coast Guard, or Navy”.
    Yeah, just build your ‘golf-course’, and leave the fighting to the ‘Senior Services’…

  3. Jon, the AF would have just as much trouble getting the UH-1Y as the UH 60 through the Army.

    Pedro is flying the Blackhawk in AFG. I see no legal reason why an Army contract could not be extended to include a by for the AF. Frankly, it makes a lot of sense. Making them go through the process that would be required of a de novo contract is the height of idiocy.

    I don’t know why the Marines don’t buy the Seahawk. They would also be better off with a Navalized version of the Apache as well. I can see the temptation of keeping the UH/AH airframes because of a large amount of parts commonality, but they give up a lot of capability hanging with the odler airframes. There is only so much you can do with an older airframe with upgrades.

    1. Just to clarify, the Air Force isn’t going to modify the Army’s contract. They’re gonna straight up buy from the Army. The Army would then need to modify its own contract, or add the money from the Air Force to its next multi-year buy of Blackhawks. Or, possibly, just do without 93 airframes.

  4. I believe there was talk a while back of just hiring contrators to do the job the UH-1Ns are currently doing, which is shuttle crews back and forth the missile silos. If they aboslutely need to buy something then maybe they should look at the UH-72.

    USAF, if it isn’t called a “FIGHTER” and have an afterburner, they really don’t care about it.

    1. I’d be all for them buying the UH-72, but it seems a bit light for what they want. It’s gotten so bad buying a/c, I’m happy the Air Force has at least mapped out a semi-sensible position in a very minor program.

  5. Brad, I’m aware the AF would simply buy the choppers from the Army. Whether it’s done like that, or through a contact mod doesn’t matter. Either way would work and I see no legal reason for it not to work. We are dealing with bureaucrats, however.

    UH-72 would work as well, but you would need the same type of arrangement as for the UH-60.

  6. It’s about bashing the DOD. A competition is worthless. It’s not a “new” weapon system, an airframe in the inventory can do this job. It’s about a bunch of pets making a mountain out of a molehill.

    Remember the ASPJ? It was a ECM package the navy/AF had to scrap because it was called to costly. Scott O’Grady didn’t have it and was shot down over Bosnia. Thanks a lot guys.

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