There has been a lot of depressing news of late about defense budget cuts, terminated procurements, weapons systems that fail to perform as required and government ineptitude in overseeing competitions and writing contracts. So it is nice to be able to write about what looks to be a good news story.
Sikorsky, the original equipment manufacturer for the widely deployed Blackhawk and CH-53 family of military helicopters, has unveiled an advanced prototype for a new helicopter, the S-97 Raider. This aircraft looks like something Spielberg or Lucas might have created. The Raider is based on the technology developed in the company’s X2 program. The X2 was able to achieve speeds of over 250 miles per hour, twice that of traditional helicopters. The Raider has two counter rotating sets of blades and a propeller in the back. Its sleek shape and rigid rotor system not only enable the aircraft to cruise at high speed, but results in significant improvements to maneuverability, a greater payload capacity than similarly-sized helicopters and a lower acoustic signature. In addition, according to Sikorsky, the design of the engines and rotor systems will allow for very easy maintenance.
There is something else about the Raider that is as impressive as its advanced design and technologies. It was developed without government money in about a fifth of the time for a typical Pentagon program of record. Because Sikorsky paid for the Raider out of its own independent research and development funds, it did not have to go through the laborious competitive and contracting processes required for a Department of Defense program. When a design change had to be made, the Sikorsky engineers just did it; there were no endless rounds of meetings, long approval processes or debates over whether the change was within or out of scope. As a result, it cost a pittance to create Raider.
There is a lesson here for those trying to fix DoD’s broken acquisition system. The system cannot be fixed. It is too bureaucratized, burdened by regulations, specifications, procedures, oversight and reporting requirements and funding constraints. DoD can pursue its Better Buying Power initiative from now until the end of time and it will not be able to achieve the level of cost savings with rapid design and development that Sikorsky demonstrated with the Raider.
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