Fire Sale: Canada Buys Marine One Choppers

Well, it’s happened; the long rumored sale of the nine VH-71 helos that at one time made up the beginnings of the Marine One replacement fleet have been officially sold to Canada dirt cheap.

Nope, the VIP birds won’t be ferrying the Canadian prime minister around or flying the Queen on her visits to the frozen north instead they’ll be hangar queens. Yup, the tricked out helos will be used for parts for Canada’s fleet of Cormorant rescue choppers.

The fleet was reportedly mothballed out at NAS Patuxent River in Maryland. The nine helicopters were in various stages of being outfitted with all sorts of creature comforts, communications gear and countermeasures required to carry the commander in chief when the program was ended a couple of years ago.

From this Ottawa Citizen article by my old colleague at Defense News David Pugliese:

The nine US101 helicopters as well as additional spare parts were purchased at a cost of around $164 million. That price includes shipping, handling, and engineering support.

The Obama administration had pulled the plug on the US101, also known as the VH-71, after the projected cost of the aircraft doubled from $6.5 billion to $13 billion U.S.

News reports indicate the U.S. government invested $3 billion into the helicopters, before the Pentagon decided to withdraw from the program.

“This package is considered an excellent one-time opportunity for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces to address long-standing CH-149 Cormorant fleet availability issues related to the availability of spare parts,” noted Defence Department spokeswoman Kim Tulipan.

The VH-71s and the Cormorants are similar variants of the AgustaWestland EH-101 helicopter so there are a number of common parts, she added.

An initial shipment of spare parts arrived in March. The remainder of the items will follow between now and September. 

The availability of spare parts for the CH-149 Cormorant fleet, delivered to units starting in 2001 and 2002, remains an ongoing problem, military officers have said.

Wait a second; the canucks are saying that ‘hey, we can’t get any spare parts for our almost brand new helicopters, eh.” Wait, what? 

One big question we have here at DT is; in a time of tight budgets, why aren’t these birds being reused by the U.S.? Especially since the Pentagon recently renewed the VXX presidential helicopter replacement program.

  • Mastro

    What a mess- I still don’t understand how/why the POTUS needs 9+ helicopters.

    The $13 Billion is beyond my mere mortal mind to understand.

    Meanwhile the Canadian program is a mess.

    I see helos flying to a local hospital all the time- what is so hard to figure out?

    • Guest A

      Because, mere mortal, They fly other missions other than flying the Man around.

    • TLAM Strike

      They fly in a three ship flight so some terrorist with a MANPAD can’t be sure he is aiming at the correct one. 3 helos (POTUS’s bird, his backup and a gunship) = 3 on mission + 3 reserve + 3 down for maintenance = 9 choppers minimum.

      Things get more complex if they have to be sent overseas for a state visit, or need to fly FLOTUS, the VP or a Cabinet Secretary around.

      Marine Squadron HMX-1 was to receive 23 new choppers in total that would have replaced BOTH the VH-3D and VH-60N.

      • Mastro

        Yeah I thought there was some reasonable explanation < >

        How about- if a chopper is down- they fly two and not three?

        Or- maybe even cancel the fundraiser with Hollywood execs that he’s going to?

        • TLAM Strike

          So take a 33% chance of someone killing the NCA in flight and making 50%? That’s what happens when you ground one chopper.

          Don’t forget POTUS is the face of our nation we present to the world, and there are people out there who want to see him dead because of it.

          Sure there are people who would like to see POTUS getting around in a used Ford Pinto, but do we want that to be what the world thinks of us? Yes a fleet of choppers a couple of jumbo jets, and a small army of USSS agents support POTUS where he goes but when a big fancy chopper lands and out steps POTUS who is saluted by a Marine in his dress blues it signals that the USA is mighty and powerful and shouldn’t be messed with.

          • blight

            Alternatively, someone kills a head of state on American soil. On the off-chance Medvedev ever comes by, and is knocked out of the sky by a man portable SAM (in this case, the MANPAD is being used offensively…), who is going to be blamed for that one?

          • Mastro

            Doesn’t work when the POTUS is flying somewhere to beg for lower interest loans.

            Why is raising the missile intercept risk from 33% to 50% so important? Its more like raising it from .0001 % to .0002%

            Why not have 437 choppers blanket the sky and lower it to that of being hit by a meteor?

            Maybe it was the Meteor Detection System that drove the cost up from $6.5 billion to $13 billion.

            But of course- no respectful POTUS can do without.

        • Riceball

          Because then it make it that much easier to figure which chopper the President is in. With 3 it allows them to play the old shell game by shuffling the 3 choppers around so nobody can easily figure out which one he is really in.

  • AHK

    The problem begins and ends with DoD procurement and project specification officers. They are screwing up the country’s budgets and the military’s readiness with their complete and total ignorance of the commercial industry around them. They haven’t taken a comprehensive look at the life cycle and development of electronics packages so they’re still buying radar systems like their phillips head screws.

  • blight

    If the Canadians have parts issues with their fleet, it might be a warning sign to the US that this airframe mightve been bad. We probably kept the most expensive stuff like communications gear, which can be fitted to whatever new helicopter comes next.

    Funny how when a aircraft with powerful backers stalls it soldiers on, and some ‘foreign’ aircraft with concessions to Americsn procurement has problems it must be stamped out like vermin. Double standard?

    • Guest A

      All they really got were 9 basic, flyable airframes right off of the factory floor from AW for flight test. Some of them were in the process of being modified for comms gear and such but the program was cancelled before anything like that was installed.

      • blight

        Then it’s no big deal, though 160M for nine airframes is steep. The price would’ve dropped considerably with mass production, but this was never meant to be a mass production aircraft. Critics conflate low cost (which comes with mass production) to everything; but seem to have no problem with the difference between between custom-tailored suits and off-the-rack.

  • blight

    “Top priority” to who? HMX-1 today works with pretty much just Sikorsky, and it’s nice when the lion’s share of your helicopters come from the same mfr that you’ve worked with for decades with older helicopters with an abundant supply chain.

    This wouldn’t be the same. This is a “Lockheed Martin” product based on an AgustaWestland product. LM is probably going to assembly of products here, but that doesn’t mean the initial subcontractors for parts will be overseas. Unless LM decides to replace every part with a local American equivalent. This would explain the severe cost overruns, at which point you should’ve just designed and built your own helicopter.

    • Guest A

      HMX has top priority over the rest of the Marine Corps helo sqdrns (53s, 46s, and H-1s) I mean to say. And yes they would be working directly with LM if the program was still on. That’s for the white side though, I think the green side mostly gets their parts through the supply chain and they have top billing.

      They wanted to modify it so much they may as well have built it up from the ground, but they have zero helo experience so they went with a proven design already in use and sub-contracted Bell to do most of the maintenance. LM was going to put their comms and black boxes in it.

      • blight

        Which illustrates that military companies engage in ventures they have no business being in. Sikorsky doesn’t bid on fighter jet contracts because their expertise is in helicopters. While I respect LockMart and the Skunk Works for learning how to do things nobody’s done before, there’s a time and place for comparative advantage. Picking up a low-rate helicopter contract when you have no experience with mass production or low-rate production of helicopters doesn’t make corporate sense, unless there’s money to be made on the learning curve.

        In an ideal world, AgustaWestland (UK/IT) helicopter company would offer their AW101 and license it to a company with helicopter experience and LM would be a partner, installing avionics. Boeing licensed AgustaWestland to build Apaches overseas, so it’s not like there should be trust issues between the companies.

        That’s probably why Boeing is poised to use the AW-101 design /again/ for VXX…

  • Rajarata

    What a waste of $6.5B !

  • William C.

    This entire program… what a shame.

  • USMC 6591

    Typical of the Obama administration… jumping the gun before the end is known. I think they their motivation was more about dumping on DOD and the secret service than saving money.

    They certainly didn’t complain about Nancy Pelosi using one of our largest and most expensive strategic assets for her personal taxi and ferrying around her family and friends in it.

    They certainly haven’t tried to trim any costs in the areas that they deem important, only the ones they don’t.

    I seem to remember the democrats and the administration during the TARP fiasco claiming that wasting 27 billion was only a “rounding error” and not worth spending time on.

    Seems like incompetence, ideological blindness and politically motivated. What a waste.

    • blight

      From snopes:
      http://www.snopes.com/politics/pelosi/jet.asp

      What’s more interesting is the fact that the military has VIP jets in the first place. The better question is are generals entitled to these privileges, or should they only get this kind of largesse when they retire and become board members at LockMart, GDLS and Northrop Grumman?

  • blight

    That sounds reasonable, but what it sounds like from a engineering standpoint is that every part you put in has to be checked to ensure it works properly with all the other parts, and that any one part must be better than what was replaced without compromising anything. And as N parts are replaced by LM, there may be as many as N^2 things you have to watch out for.

    It sounds like the heart of the machine would remain the same, then in that case it begs the question of why have LM sub out parts: which is to make the minimum “made in USA” for contracting. It sounds like a lot of additional trouble and expense that military procurement does not need just for political brownie points (“made with pride in my district”).

  • Richard Retired

    I’m glad it did not get sold to any other country. Even tho the VH-71 could of been used here for other missions.

    • blight

      Meh. Having a small force of one-off AW101’s with a unique supply train for a mission that isn’t even special anymore is unsound. It’s a waste, but we can only use our boondoggle points on fighter jets.

  • blight

    Nope. Forest firefighting aircraft have special modifications for that kind of job. You’d basically have to gut the AW101 and rejigger it without compromising structure.

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