Air Force declares major cost breach for new helicopter program

Air Force declares major cost breach for new helicopter program

Now that the Air Force wants to halve its planned buy of a new helicopter to patrol missile fields, the program is running far over budget.

“Last week we were notified of a Nunn-McCurdy breach for the MH-139 Grey Wolf. This follows the Sentinel’s Nunn-McCurdy breach. We need to understand the implications of both these breach reviews for fiscal 2025 and beyond,” Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., said today during a House defense appropriations subcommittee hearing. 

An Air Force spokesperson confirmed Calvert’s comments and said the program reported a “critical” Nunn-McCurdy breach to Congress, which means that the helicopter has exceeded the baseline cost by more than 25 percent, and the defense secretary will have to certify the program to stop it from being canceled. 

“On April 25, 2024, we notified Congress of a critical Nunn-McCurdy breach for MH-139A that is tied to the reduction in aircraft quantities in the program. [The Office of the Secretary of Defense] will follow the Nunn-McCurdy process; however, the statute does allow the Department of Defense to handle quantity-related breaches slightly differently,” the service spokesperson said. 

The Air Force announced its plans to halve its buy of the helicopter in its 2025 budget request due to spending caps—reducing the total program of record from 80 to 42 helicopters, including six test aircraft. The reduction drove up the price per helicopter because development costs are spread across fewer aircraft.

A similar situation happened to another helicopter program in 2022: the Air Force cut its buy of  the HH-60W combat rescue helicopter, resulting in a Nunn-McCurdy breach.  

The Grey Wolf, which is built by Boeing and Leonardo, is to replace the Air Force’s aging Huey helicopters that security teams use to guard intercontinental ballistic missile fields. The service also planned to use some of the new MH-139s for VIP transport missions in and around Washington, D.C.—a secondary mission that will be cut now that the service will buy fewer aircraft.

The service recently awarded Boeing a $178 million contract for seven MH-139s, bringing the total number of aircraft under contract to 26. The company is on track to deliver the first production aircraft to the Air Force this summer. 

[Editor’s note: Calvert tried to overturn U.S. election results in 2021.]



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