View Full Version : Money for Super Cobras in jeopardy

07-21-2009, 01:47 PM
By Amy McCullough
Congress wants to cut nearly $283 million in funding from the Corps’ H-1 upgrade program, essentially halting production of UH-1Y Hueys and AH-1Z Super Cobras beyond fiscal 2009.
An amendment to the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill, still being discussed in the Senate, would shift funding from the Corps’ H-1 helicopter program to the F136 General Electric/Rolls Royce alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Proponents of the alternate engine say it is necessary to prevent a fleetwide grounding if anything goes wrong with the existing Pratt & Whitney F135 engine, and to lower the overall cost of the JSF by increasing competition. The Corps argues, however, that the savings would be nominal and that the risk of relying solely on the Pratt & Whitney engine is small compared with the risk of prolonging the JSF’s development.
The Navy Department stopped seeking funding for the alternate engine in 2007, saying the funds were best spent elsewhere, although Congress has added it every year since.
President Barack Obama’s advisers have said they will recommend a veto if the bill “seriously disrupt[s] the F-35 program,” which opponents suspect will happen if the alternate engine program resumes.
“The Defense Department is already pleased with the engine it has. The engine it has works,” Obama told reporters May 7. “The Pentagon does not want — and does not plan to use — the alternative version. That’s why the Pentagon stopped requesting this funding two years ago.” Some legislators have said they intend to introduce an additional amendment at the end of July that, if approved, would remove the earmarked funding for the alternate engine and free it once again for the H-1 program.
The UH-1Ys and AH-1Zs, also known as Yankees and Zulus, are intended to replace the Vietnam-era light attack helicopters. They are larger, more powerful and much more capable of accomplishing today’s combat missions, Marine officials say. If the bill passes without additional funding for the program, Marine squadrons may be forced to deploy to Afghanistan with tired old helicopters that have trouble operating over high altitudes — a big problem in the country’s mountainous terrain.
Concerned about the impact H-1 funding cuts would have on Marines in Afghanistan, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., recently requested additional information from the Corps about the program. “It makes no sense to spend money on [an alternative engine] deemed unnecessary by both the president and the Pentagon,” especially at the expense of Marines in Afghanistan, Lieberman told Marine Corps Times.
Commandant Gen. James Conway said in his July 10 response to Lieberman that the decision to cut the funding will force the Corps to continue relying on helicopters that are long overdue for retirement.
“As we focus on operations in Afghanistan, sustaining the introduction of the H-1 is vital to our future success,” Conway wrote. “We have prioritized UH-1Y deliveries early in the program in an effort to quickly replace our aging fleet of UH-1N helicopters. While the UH-1N has served us well for many decades, it has now reached the point where its available power and key aircrew systems are simply not adequate for robust combat operations.” The Navy Department’s proposed fiscal 2010 budget included funding for 28 Yankee and Zulu helicopters, both of which are Bell built aircraft that share 84 percent of the same parts, including the four-blade rotor system and crashworthy seats intended to reduce the logistical and supply load on squadrons. The plan was to build 16 new Yankees, two new Zulus and upgrade 10 existing AH-1W Cobras next year.
The Corps wants to field 123 UH-1Ys and 226 AH-1Zs. That’s an increase of 100 Yankees and 180 Zulus from the Corps’ initial plans, Naval Air Systems Command spokesman Mike Welding said, adding that the numbers jumped after plans were announced to grow the service to 202,000 active-duty Marines.
The goal is to purchase all of them by 2019, with a projected final delivery date of 2021, he said. The next Huey is slated for delivery Sept. 1, with two more due in October. The next AH-1Z is expected to come off the line in December, bringing the total fleet to 21 Yankees and seven Zulus by the end of this calendar year.
Earlier this year, the Corps sent three Yankees on a float with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, marking the helicopter ’s first deployment. In his letter to Lieberman, Conway said the Corps intends to send a full squadron to Afghanistan in November. Maintaining production of the helicopters is critical to sustaining the Corps’ deployment schedule, he said.
“Once we deploy the UH-1Y to theater,” Conway wrote, “we want to keep it there

From the Marine Corps Times Printed edition