We knew that Northstar Aerospace, the subcontractor making the transmissions for lead contractor Boeing, had fallen behind on building that crucial component. We knew at least seven of the latest model, the vaunted AH-64E Apache Guardian, had been built at some point without transmissions, rendering them unflyable until the part was finally installed.
What we didn’t know was that the Army was taking new Apaches that did have transmissions, running them through the full battery of flight tests, formally accepting them from the contractor, and then taking the transmissions back out again. Why? So Boeing can re-install those transmissions on the next aircraft coming off the line, which allows that chopper to be tested, accepted, and stripped of its transmission in turn.
In brief, it looks like the service is playing a classic shell game that allows the aircraft to pass their flight tests even though there are not enough transmissions for all of them to actually fly at the same time. The Army insists Boeing is paying for all the extra work, as the company should. But installing, removing, reinstalling, re-removing, and re-reinstalling a component can’t help but put unnecessary wear and tear on it. (There’s a reason that technicians call the process, with grim humor, “cannibalization”). The ultimate result is that transmissions will wear out faster, which in turn means more expense down the road and a higher probability of the part failing in combat.
Lt. Gen. William Phillips, the military deputy to Army acquisition chief Heidi Shyu, revealed much of this in testimony this morning (Apr. 26, 2013) to the House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee. Phillips was responding to a pointed question from a clearly well-briefed Rep. Loretta Sanchez, the panel’s top Democrat. We’ve also received explanatory documents from sources we can’t name. And there are still plenty of questions we’re waiting for the Army and Congress to answer on the record.
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