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Because of an unspecified delay in Federal Aviation Administration certification of the MH-139, the U.S. Air Force has no plans to buy any of the Grey Wolf aircraft in the upcoming fiscal year.
Based on the Leonardo Helicopters-built AW139 and militarized by Boeing, the MH-139 will replace the fleet of 63 UH-1N Hueys the Air Force uses to guard nuclear missile fields in the Midwest and for VIP missions in and around Washington, D.C.
After spending $194 million on eight of the aircraft in the current fiscal year, which runs through the end of September, the Air Force requested zero dollars for the Grey Wolf program in fiscal 2022, according to service budget documents.
“You will not see the MH-139 in the budget this year,” Carlos Rodgers, secretary for budget for the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for financial management, said at a May 28 budget briefing at the Pentagon. “Basically, what we are doing is deferring the procurement of the MH-139 until ’23. It’s not in the budget in FY ’22 due to a FAA certification issue that we have experienced. At this point, we do not have a procurement plan in the ’22 budget.”
Neither Rodgers nor Air Force Maj. Gen. James D. Peccia, deputy assistant secretary for budget, elaborated on the nature of the FAA certification delay. Prime contractor Boeing said it and Leonardo “continue to move forward to complete certification testing of the MH-139A Grey Wolf aircraft in coordination with the Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration.”
“The aircraft currently in Florida are performing well during the initial stage of the joint flight test program,” a Boeing spokesperson said in a statement.
Research and development funding from the current fiscal year “continues to provide for live fire test and evaluation activities necessary to assess compliance with aircraft self-protection and survivability requirements,” according to Air Force budget documents. “The MH-139A solution is expected to undergo operational test and evaluation beginning in FY22 to validate the aircraft’s operational performance, effectiveness, and suitability.”
The flyaway unit cost of an MH-139 was $17.6 million in 2021, for a gross weapon system cost of $24.25 million, according to Air Force budget documents.
Meanwhile, the Air Force is committed to buying the HH-60W combat rescue helicopter, though funding for the program and the quantity it will purchase both fell from the current fiscal year. Where the Air Force bought 19 Sikorsky HH-60W helicopters in fiscal 2021 for about $1 billion, it requested $792 million for 14 in the upcoming fiscal year.
Peccia said there are “no issues” with the program. Purchasing 19 “Jolly Green IIs” in 2021 included an additional three helicopters through what was called “overseas contingency operations”, or OCO, funding for wartime operations. So, three HH-60Ws were eliminated from the 2022 request, Peccia said.