CAPITOL HILL: Congress has asked the Army to explain why it has officially taken delivery of at least seven AH-64E Apache Guardian helicopters that don’t have transmissions installed yet, Breaking Defense has learned. An unidentified subcontractor to Boeing which makes the helicopter, fell behind on building the transmissions and is now trying to catch up, but until it does, the high-tech gunships are unflyable.

[Click here for the Army's response and click here for relevations from Congress]

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) mentioned the Apache transmission issue in one sentence of a 190-page report released last month, as reported by our colleagues at Inside Defense. But the problem remained unfixed as of yesterday, when Hill staff first learned of it during an Army briefing on the service’s 2014 budget. Both Congress and Breaking Defense are now waiting on further explanation from the Army.

“The question is, are they still behind, [and] why would the Army be taking delivery of aircraft that aren’t complete?” one Hill staffer told Breaking Defense. “Normally the government doesn’t sign for an aircraft that is missing a major component, and the contractor doesn’t get paid for it until it’s complete…. Boeing obviously needs to get a handle on this.”

The staffer did not expect the taxpayer to have to bear any additional costs for the helicopters, since Boeing and its subcontractor should pay to install the belated transmission out of their own pockets. The bigger concern is the delay to an important Army program.

We contacted Boeing for comment but haven’t heard back from them yet. We’ll update the story with comment as soon as we get it.

The AH-64 Apache is the vanguard of Army aviation, originally designed to destroy Soviet tanks with long-range missiles but now employed as the heavily armed angel on the shoulder of American ground troops in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have nicknamed it “The Monster.” The Apache entered service in 1984, replacing the Vietnam-vintage Cobra, and has been regularly upgraded since.

According to Program Executive Office (PEO) Aviation spokeswoman Sofia Bledsoe, the Army currently plans to acquire 690 of the latest version, the AH-64E Guardian, by 2027, mostly remanufactured from existing AH-64D Longbows to save money but with 56 built from scratch. Full-rate production begins in 2014, assuming the budget passes, but a few dozen aircraft are already being delivered under what’s called “low-rate initial production” (LRIP). So far, the service has taken delivery of 33 AH-64E Apaches — except that only 26 of those can actually fly because seven lack transmissions.

Hopefully this is just one of the hiccups that afflicts any new military program, even one that builds on three decades of success. (Another problem that GAO mentioned, unspecified “operator concerns” with the new transmission design, has apparently been resolved). The LRIP stage of military procurements, in particular, is notoriously prone to problems — just ask the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

But that the Army is officially signing off on choppers that aren’t actually completed is certainly strange — and given the Army’s often disastrous record of weapons procurements, a little unnerving. We’ll update this story as we learn more from the Army, Boeing, and Congress.

Colin Clark contributed to this story.

Comments

  • CharleyA

    “Transmissions” or “transmitters?” ….

  • Mitchell Fuller

    I was going to comment, but article did it for me re LRIP = recipe for disaster and Army’s record on weapons procurement.

  • PCS

    The Military Industrial Complex is out of control and needs to be reigned in.We don’t need all this hardware if we are winding down the war.

    • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

      Go and try to put reigns on it and you’ll have a war. The apache’s you see will have transmissions in A-1 shape. 3 speed out of the old ’70 cuda I would think. 1st and 2nd pretty good and the 3rd ‘here we go lagging again you big 440′.

  • Scott Thrasher

    Okay I am all for BACKING the military in what they do. BUT, This is just plain STUPID to take delievery of something ANYTHING that isn’t complete? It is like going down to the car dealership and buying a car without a motor. None of US would even THINK of that.

  • Knowman

    I’d rather see these on the deck without a transmission then flying with transmissions
    that would knowingly fail! So the transmission contractor will have to pay for the
    transmissions to be delivered to the facility holding the aircraft. So the contractor
    will have to have their assembly crew out at the facility to do the installation. I’d
    rather see this than funerals for well trained husbands and fathers who were
    flying combat aircraft with known failures waiting to happen!

  • Jamro

    WAIT A MINUTE!!!! Biden said there were NO Black Helicopters…..

    • Terry

      He didn’t mean painted black….

      • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

        I think he was referring to pilots. I’m sure he is wrong on that. I know those Hellfire missiles ate up Saddam’s tanks. I bet they saw the ones blowing up around them and shouted, ‘Yes Allah, I am coming’. I imagine the Saudi’s fly the Apache.

  • guest

    We’re also (allegedly) paying the contractor for storage of the non-flyable a/c.

  • xxxxRED

    This isn’t new. A closer look will more than likely show that the Army has transmissions in their spare parts innovatory.

    • http://defense.aol.com/ Colin Clark

      It’s new. The Army is accepting substantially rebuilt Apaches and the transmissions are not ready for prime time. That’s it. Those are facts.

    • Ggg5Gebhardt

      The cozy realtionship between our government and the military hardware supplier has been like this for ever and ever. They both depend on each other and EMPLOY THE HIGHEST PAID UNION WORKERS ON EARTH! This is the main reason for these purchases!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Doug-Click/100002154492095 Doug Click

    I think that the military is scared that if they don’t accept delivery that funding might be pulled from under them. The Apache is a game changing platform on the battlefield and they can’t loose out on getting more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/leon.seebruck Leon Seebruck

    maybe the sequester should have included this payment to the contractors

  • http://www.facebook.com/leon.seebruck Leon Seebruck

    go out there and defend our country boy’s , oh sorry the transmissions have not arrived yet

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.flay.94 Richard Flay

    Any weapon that depends on plywood to fly is doomed. How many helicopters did we loose in Viet Nam? They are only suited for rescue and sight seeing.

    • Terry

      I wouldn’t call rescue an “only”…..

  • Brian F.

    this picture is eastern the
    Washington desert,near Yakima,it is not near Ft.Lewis.

  • Terry

    If we get into a war, the pilot can go sit in it and say “whrrrrrrrrrrr….”

    • Skidder

      Sorry, but your facts are WRONG. I’m a helicopter pilot, so I can tell you this about the pilots, they would say, “whop, whop, whop….”.

      • Skidder

        Or, and even better really, they can just carry-on a normal conversation, while beating on their chests…VERY authentic!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.brewer.58367 John Brewer

    The contractors probably had something more important to spend that money on like their new car or boat or villas in France can you say bonuses for all at the top boys!!!! Don’t worry though the can just make up the difference with the next 40 or 50 helicopters money and they will get to them eventually they’ve only been building these helicopters for what 20 years now. This is just how republicans and stockholders function today take the money and fail at the task they get paid for. Bilking the taxpayer all the way , wile we are at it lets send some more troops out to die for a war that means nothing, anywhere guys really lets just draw a countries name out of a hat and invade them that will make a boatload of cash.

  • stvhndyman

    Perhaps the Army was/is concerned about the program being scraped or reduced and took delivery of these incompete choppers. You can’t “scrap” what the Army already has.
    Just hoping that the company pays for the completion and not the tax payer.

  • Bill Morgan

    Why do we need this????????????

  • Tom Holzel

    “…why it has officially taken delivery of at least seven AH-64E Apache Guardian helicopters that don’t have transmissions>>>?”
    Classic industry boondoggle called “ship in place.” It means you make a deal with the cusdtomer to ship in place, i.e., send the shipping documents but not the product. Usually beneifts both sides, or the customer is repaying a favor.

  • Northstar employee

    The unnamed contractor in this case is Northstar Aerospace, based in Chicago.

  • Bob

    A Hill staffer demands answers! I wonder how compelling this is to Boeing.

  • PolicyWonk

    Why would anyone take delivery and even accept the overhead of storing aircraft that cannot perform its most basic requirement (i.e. fly)?

    No one would accept delivery of a new car without a transmission – so this doesn’t make sense.

  • uh34d

    I’m still waiting for members of the Army to explain why the British version of the Apache can carry a heavier payload (ammo), has more power (the Rolls engine again…shades of the Harrier) and better high altitude performance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/roberta.rosenfeld.5 Roberta Rosenfeld

    why-because they feel like it, that’s why.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1477130087 Marcheal Gideon

    Isn’t buying unfinished stuff dangerous.

  • SR15

    It appears that they wanted to make sure they got the choppers before sequester kicked in so they had them delivered ASAP. No one was suppose to notice that they didn’t have transmissions. If they hadn’t taken delivery, the order probably would have been canceled.

  • Ggg5Gebhardt

    The army just like our other branches are trying to protect their “stuff”. You must understand these are departments that have always got an INCREASE in spending every year! They can’t even comprehend what it is like to save or cut back! They are simply stunned like the rest of our government. They have been getting more and more for so long that just the thought of cutting back scares the heck out of them!

  • Canefighter

    This way they can swap out parts from downed copters and get a new one flying with the stripped parts much faster then waiting for a whole new unit being delivered.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sharon.kincaid Sharon Kincaid

    Our concern should be why are they sending our troops out in croppers that are a piece of crap. My neighbor left ealries this year flying one of the seven that left here and all seven are fallening apart. To me they need to make sure the ones they have a safe before worring about new ones with no tranmission in them.