US President Joe Biden’s maiden flight aboard a new presidential helicopter built by Lockheed Martin Corp is being delayed after a report by the Pentagon’s test unit warned that it was not “relevant in terms of operational” or sufficiently reliable – especially in an emergency.
The Biden administration has yet to determine if the helicopter can be commissioned as it is still assessing its safety, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the discussions. internal. The White House Military Office will determine the timeline.
According to an internal brief prepared by the Pentagon testing office for senior defense officials, obtained by the Pentagon testing office and Bloomberg News.
The VH-92 Helicopter Program is a $5 billion, 23-plane program aimed at replacing the aging fleet currently used by the president and other top officials. The previously unpublished test report, dated September 28, said the aircraft was “effective” for routine “administrative” tasks such as running to Camp David or taking the president to Joint Base Andrews outside Washington for a pre-planned trip on Air Force One.
But it is not effective “for operational backup duty”, a reference to emergency flights. “Mission Communication Systems (MCS) often delay critical communications at the start of backup missions and do not adequately support timely, continuous, and secure communications,” the test office said. “.
The program office of Naval Air Defense Systems Command stamped the 28-page test report “Controlled Unclassified Information,” a new label that is increasingly being used by the military to limit restrict the public dissemination of program performance and cost data.
“The VH-92 report is marked CUI to protect critical technical information and operational security,” Captain Clay Doss, a Navy spokesman, said in a statement. “An unclassified/classifiable summary will be included in” the annual report of the Pentagon testing office, he said. That report is usually published in January.
With its iconic “top white” paint job, Marine One – as it’s called when the president is on board – is almost as much a symbol of the American presidency as a Force One jet. A large number of reporters and White House guests regularly gather to watch the president depart and return on a helicopter. The current fleet entered service in 1975, with a newer model added in 1989. Plans to replace the previous Lockheed ship were scrapped in 2009 after that program was thwarted by Rising costs and delays in schedules.
The Marines, in coordination with the White House Military Office, planned to declare in July that the helicopter had “Initial Capability”. That’s a delay from June 2020 and then January. That designation will be followed by the military office that assigns the missions. Both did not happen.
The Pentagon’s Director of Performance Evaluation and Testing assessed the helicopter’s performance during three months of testing ending April 15. Major General Gregory Masiello, Marine Corps program officer, told a Navy audience on August 3 that “the squadron and program are ready today. “
The Marine Corps Test Squadron flew 18 sorties over 131 flight hours in scenarios in and out of the National Capitals Region, including to Camp David, to assess baseline performance and maintenance capabilities of the helicopter. Jessica Maxwell, a spokeswoman for the test office, said in an email that the test flights were designed to answer the question: Will it be “effective and suitable for carrying out the transportation of the President?” Vice President, members of the cabinet and heads of state?”
The testing office declined to answer any questions about the results because they are considered “controlled unclassified information,” Maxwell said.
The test office concluded that “instability, flaws inside the cabin, routine maintenance checks and aft stair door components contributed to the aircraft’s low availability”, the test office said. conclude. The lack of “communication systems diagnostic capabilities” at the squadron level “and the time required to access” communications system components “has hindered the fleet’s ability to maintain aircraft,” it said.
In addition, the VH-92 program office has yet to resolve the issue of the new helicopter potentially scorching the grass on the landing pad on the South Lawn of the White House. Rotating propellers and engine exhausts caused scorching in limited cases first occurring in September 2018.
“Engine discharge and liquid discharge impose restrictions on landing area damage, limiting the number of available landing zones,” according to the summary. The Marines should “continue to reduce the effects of engine and fluid emissions.”
Megan Wasel, a spokeswoman for the program office, said it “continues to work closely” with the Marines and the White House Office of Military Affairs “to enable a seamless transition from copter aircraft in service.” to the VH-92. Wasel said the Bethesda, Maryland-based company Lockheed was provided with the test report.
“The report did not raise any issues that were not aware of the program office and the Marines,” said Major Jorge Hernandez, a spokesman for the Marine Corps’ Deputy Chief of Aviation. problems have been fixed before. The office “cannot speculate when” the White House will approve to begin the missions, he said.
John Dorrian, a spokesman for Lockheed’s Sikorsky aircraft division, said “we are delighted that the customer awarded us the contract to build the final five helicopters” in February. “Sikorsky continues to work closely with our customers to ensure the aircraft meets all operational requirements,” he said.
The Navy ordered the final batch of 23 contract production and test aircraft on February 5, three days before the start of test operations. The service has spent more than $1.5 billion on the program.
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