Cheap Army Chopper Draws Heavy Fire

By Asa Eslocker

Nov 15, 2007 12:27pm

The secretary of the Army and the Army’s top general are being questioned today about why the Army spent billions on a new helicopter that was purchased for homeland defense and disaster relief but cannot be used to fight forest fires, and that was found to be "not operationally suitable," according to an internal Pentagon report obtained by ABC News. The $2.6 billion contract for 322 Lakota Light Utility Helicopters is drawing fire after three glaring flaws were discovered in field tests this summer. According to the Army’s "Operational Test and Evaluation Report," the chopper was found to be "not operationally effective for MEDEVAC missions," "not effective for use in hot environments" and did not meet required lift capacity. Another official U.S. Army document, obtained by the Blotter on ABCNews.com, says the Lakota helicopter was chosen "because the price was more important" than the technical requirements. THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS Blotter Fearing Iraq Pullout, State Boosting Private Chopper Force Blotter Iraq War Takes Helicopters Needed for U.S. Disaster Missions Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey and Army Secretary Pete Geren are appearing during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today. In the wake of the California wildfire, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and other members of Congress are worried that the Lakota lacks the heavy lifting power to be deployed in the emergency of future fires.  Hunter recently wrote to Secretary Geren, "The Lakota is unable to handle the 300-gallon ‘buckets’ which other helicopters utilize." In the letter, Hunter went as far as to recommend the termination of the Lakota contract, writing, "We would be well-advised to terminate the planned buy of 322 Lakota helicopters." The Army’s report says the Lakota "does not meet the 2,200-pound external lift requirement," but it "successfully delivered external loads weighing 1,190 pounds." The Army’s report also shows that the Lakota is "not operationally effective for the MEDEVAC mission" because its small cabin does not "permit patient treatment by the in-flight medic."  The cabin is simply too narrow and short for two patients on stretchers to receive urgent care from an emergency medic, a deficiency outlined by the contract requirements. Video: Lakota Helicopter in Action The report also says that the Lakota "is not operationally suitable due to excessive heat" and "inadequate ventilation." The first medical evacuation tests with the Lakota were performed in the California desert by the Fort Irwin Army Air Ambulance Unit, where temperatures in the cabin reached up to 104 degrees. Army spokesman Maj. Thomas McCuin brushes off the criticism, saying the Lakota’s performance is excellent and the Army is confident in its purchase. "No aircraft is perfect, and this one met our requirements at a good price. It’s the best value for the American taxpayer’s dollar," he said. The Army purchased the contract for the Lakota UH-72A Light Utility Helicopter from Eurocopter, a European defense contractor that builds the non-combat choppers in Columbus, Miss. Guy Hicks, the vice president of communications for EADS North America, Eurocopter’s parent company, said they are proud of the Lakota and "are committed to providing a utility helicopter that meets the requirements of our men and women in uniform." Do you have a tip for Brian Ross and the Investigative Team?

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