Program Manager: VH-92 Won’t Repeat the Mistakes Of VH-71
By DANIEL P. TAYLOR, Seapower Special Correspondent
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — With just a couple of years left until the fielding of the VH-92A presidential helicopters, the program is in a critical phase of its development. Col. Eric Ropella told reporters at the Sea-Air-Space exposition April 9 that there were strict processes in place to prevent the program from repeating the VH-71 debacle.
The Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel, initially chosen to replace aging VH-3 and VH-60 helicopters currently responsible for transporting the president, was cancelled in 2009 after the Navy had already spent $4.4 billion on the program. There were a number of issues with the helicopter, but its demise was frequently blamed on extensive changes during development that delayed the aircraft and sent its budget skyrocketing.
Ropella said that in the case of the VH-92A — scheduled for initial fielding in 2020 — any change to the program would have to go through many layers of bureaucracy.
The program has done a “very, very good job of protecting the requirements,” he said. “In order to change or add any new requirements, we have a governance board that is in place which starts kind of with the program office.”
And that’s just where the lengthy process begins. It would then involve discussions with the squadron and other people, and if they agree that the capability is necessary for the aircraft, it will go before an Integrated Steering Group (ISG).
The ISG is chaired by the program executive officer for aviation as well as the assistant deputy commandant for aviation. In addition, the White House and other stakeholders have representatives on that board.
If it passes that hurdle, it goes to an Executive Steering Group, which is chaired by the deputy commandant for aviation and the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.
Once all of those people have signed off on the capability, only then does it get added to the VH-92A, Ropella said.
“So it’s not an easy process to add anything to the aircraft,” he said, noting that the goal was to prevent changes from happening during the development phase in particular. “Lessons were learned from the previous attempt, so we have exercised that process, and what we are looking at is ECPs [engineering change proposals] that will be during the production phase. We’ve been very disciplined and plan to remain disciplined.”