Who wants a nondeployable helicopter?
Not the Army, which views its fleet of Lakota choppers as operational only in “permissive” environments such as the United States, according to Lt. Gen. William Phillips, the Army’s uniformed acquisition chief, appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday.
In 2006 the Army awarded the American Eurocopter division of European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company North America a contract valued $3 billion for just more than 345 of the UH-72A Lakota helos for use primarily by Army National Guard units for medical evacuation missions in the U.S. and for VIP transport.
In 2007 the Pentagon’s operational test arm concluded that the Lakota was not effective in hot environments or for medevac of two litter patients requiring critical medical care due to “excessive heat in the aircraft cockpit and cabin from the sun, heat generated by aircraft avionics and inadequate ventilation.”
That report also determined the UH-72A does not meet its criteria to lift required external and internal loads. American Eurocopter addressed some of these problems by installing door vents and air conditioning systems.
The company, which builds the Lakota at a factory in Columbus, Miss., has developed an armed version of the helo as a contender for the Army’s project to replace its fleet of Vietnam-era OH-58 scot helicopters for between $6 billion and $8 billion.
Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican who hails from – surprise, Mississippi – pressed Philips on whether or not the upgraded Lakota would meet Army requirements for a new scout helicopter.
The Army has tested a bunch of helicopters – including the Lakota – to see if they could meet its new scout chopper needs, Phillips told Wicker. "We didn't find a single aircraft that was out there that could meet the Army's requirements,” he said.
Wicker had a hard time accepting this assessment, and with billions at stake, I have a feeling he will continue to push a Lakota scout chopper on the Army, even though it’s not ready for combat. No wonder the Defense Department is going bust.