US Presidential helicopter acquisition delayed further

US Presidential helicopter acquisition delayed further

6-Mar-2012 Source: GAO

The formal start of the VXX presidential helicopter program has been delayed, as finding an acceptable solution has proved elusive. Last year, we reported that the VXX effort was in the earliest stages of development–still developing a business case to launch product development. At that time, an AOA—required for a Milestone A decision initiating the program—was nearing completion and a Milestone A decision was expected to occur sometime in fiscal year 2011. In March 2011 the Navy sent DOD its VXX AOA study, which Navy officials stated was done in compliance with DOD-provided guidance. DOD did not, however, approve the study as it did not find that the study provided a cost effective solution. Rather, OSD and the Navy subsequently decided to update the analysis of alternatives using an acquisition strategy that might result in a more timely and affordable program using additional guidance provided by OSD in December 2011. That guidance reflects insights on requirements gained in the last year and expectations of using a streamlined acquisition approach proposed by the Navy. This has delayed the VXX program’s entry into development. Navy officials expect that this new AOA will identify a solution that sets a foundation for achieving a solid initial business case with a rational balance between requirements, costs, and schedule—an acquisition best practice and something that was missing from the terminated VH-71 program.

To achieve a balance of resources and requirements and provide a new presidential helicopter in a timely manner, DOD’s additional guidance reflects an incremental approach to achieving the full capabilities desired for the VXX. First, the Navy is going to extend the service life of the existing helicopters and at the same time upgrade their capabilities by developing and incorporating mature technologies. Second, it would define open systems architectures for the VXX aircraft to enable the insertion of those and other technologies in the future. Third, it would select an existing, available aircraft for the VXX program and then oversee the integration of the technologies matured and incorporated on the legacy helicopters into the VXX aircraft. Finally, in the future, new technologies would be developed and integrated onto the VXX aircraft as pre-planned, product improvements. While the program’s new approach would establish a more knowledge-based acquisition in line with best practices, challenges will remain as technologies will still need to be successfully matured and then integrated into the VXX aircraft.

Why GAO Did This Study

In June 2009, the Department of Defense (DOD) terminated the Navy’s VH-71 presidential helicopter acquisition program because of cost growth, schedule delays, and a projected shortfall in system performance. The Navy subsequently began efforts to define a follow-on program (the VXX program) to develop aircraft to replace the current, aging presidential helicopter fleet. The Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 (the act) directed that we review and report annually to the congressional defense committees on the VXX program through 2013. We issued the first of the required reports last year. In that report, we identified major lessons learned from the terminated VH-71 program that should be applied to the follow-on program and discussed the VXX acquisition approach and the sufficiency of the underlying acquisition plans and related documentation. This is the second of the required GAO reports. It discusses (1) the progress of the program since our last report and (2) DOD’s planned upgrades to the fleet of in-service, legacy helicopters and approach for moving the VXX program forward.

To determine the progress of the VXX program since our last report and DOD’s planned approach for the future program, we examined available program documents and interviewed program officials. To assess the progress of the Analysis of Alternatives (AOA) effort that was underway when we last reported, we met with and were briefed by officials from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (OUSD(AT&L)); the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Air Programs; the Navy’s Program Manager, Presidential Helicopters Program Office; and the director of the Navy’s AOA efforts—the Military Director, Warfare Analysis and Integration Department, Naval Air Systems Command. To determine DOD’s planned future approach for the VXX program, we met with OUSD(AT&L) officials and obtained information from the Navy’s Presidential Helicopter program manager on plans for the VXX program and on plans to extend the life and capabilities of the existing presidential helicopters. In addition, we met with officials of the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation to discuss their work in sustaining the current presidential helicopter fleet until a replacement platform can be fielded.

We conducted this performance audit from March 2011 to February 2012 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

For more information, contact Michael J. Sullivan at (202) 512-4841 or

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