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Cost Overrun for Air Force's New Rescue Copter Will Radically Raise Unit Costs

Updated: Aug 14, 2022

It is the same old story. In the last 30 years it would difficult, if not impossible. to point to a major weapons program that has delivered the number units with the promised capabilities, much less delivered them on time or on budget.

According to Defense news, the U.S. Air Force is preparing a report to Congress detailing a major cost overrun resulted from its decision to cut its HH-60W combat rescue helicopter procurement by 38 aircraft.

The service planned to buy 113 new helicopters from aircraft manufacturer Sikorsky, owned by Lockheed Martin. However, the fiscal 2023 budget request revealed a plan to cap the fleet at 75 helicopters and study the future of the combat rescue mission.

This is not a trivial change as the overall program justification was based on delivering 113 copters and spreading the development costs over 113 units. If the Air Force had initially tried to get the program approved based on just 75 units it might not have been approved.

However, this has become standard practice and programs promising to deliver a certain number of units are regularly scaled back, thus guaranteeing RDT&E costs are allocated to fewer units. This inevitably results in very large unit cost increases.

Note: The Air Force requested $870 million for 10 HH-60Ws in FY23 and plans to declare the Jolly Green II fully operational in 2022, according to the service. So that it $87 million per helicopter, not including development (RDT&E) costs.

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