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.