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Lockheed's troubled helicopter 'on good path,' Pentagon's buyer says

A CH-53K King Stallion aircraft, left, prepares to land at Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, Jupiter, Fla., March 8, 2016.

GABRIELA GARCIA/U.S. MARINE CORPS

By TONY CAPACCIO | Bloomberg | Published: May 21, 2019

Lockheed Martin's King Stallion helicopter is "on a good path" toward resolving as many as 126 technical issues after the Navy restructured the $31 billion program, according to the Pentagon's chief weapons buyer.

Ellen Lord, the under secretary of defense for acquisition, said in a statement that she "has more confidence" in the program designated CH-53K and that she supported a $1.3 billion contract for 12 more production-model helicopters that was awarded on Friday.

The contract was cut to 12 aircraft from 14 because of cost overruns on the first group of copters and the expenses for implementing technical fixes for development flaws, the Navy said.

"There are technical issues to continue to work through and continued emphasis needed on affordability, but I believe we are on a good path," Lord said in the statement. The Navy's restructuring is requiring Lockheed to share in the the risk of implementing fixes and absorbing cost overruns, she said.

Lord's support is good news for Lockheed after its heavy lift helicopter has faced multiple technical problems, schedule delays and calls by some lawmakers to pursue alternatives, including Boeing's Chinook. The new contract forestalls, for now, the prospect that the Boeing aircraft will replace Lockheed's for some or most missions.

The King Stallion will be the same size as its predecessor, the Super Stallion, but will be able to haul almost triple the cargo, lifting 27,000 pounds (12,200 kilograms), according to Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed.

A just-completed four-week assessment by the Pentagon's independent cost analysis unit reviewed the Chinook and other helicopters against the King Stallion.

It concluded that the Navy "appropriately negotiated on behalf of government interests, and based on their findings, recommended" that the $1.3 billion contract be awarded, according to Captain Danny Hernandez, a Navy acquisition spokesman. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe had asked for the review.

The Navy acknowledged in its latest Selected Acquisition Report that the King Stallion won't meet its December target date for initial combat capability. The new tentative date is September 2021, or about a 21 month delay.

The Navy plans to buy 200 copters for the Marines was a prime motivation for Lockheed's $9 billion acquisition of Sikorsky Aircraft from United Technologies Corp. in 2015. Fourteen are now under contract.

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