Army delay for Chinook helicopters could have political consequences, cause job loss

H-47 Chinook helicopter   Wikipedia

If the Army chooses to delay "Block II" upgrades to its CH-47F Chinook helicopters, it would cause approximately 2,000 jobs to be at risk in Ridley Park.

The Pentagon still hasn't publicly released its budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, but there have been leaks of some of the details, according to Forbes Contributor Loren Thompson. The Chinook upgrades may possibly be delayed five years.

Last spring, money that was earmarked for Chinook upgrades was used to address other issues and plans were made to put off improvements on the helicopters—which are expected to stay in the force until 2060, according to Thompson.

"I won’t claim to understand the operational rationale underpinning the planned delay, but I have a pretty firm grasp of what a five-year gap in planned production would mean for workers, for foreign military sales and for other Pentagon programs," Thompson wrote. "It isn’t so clear that Army planners understand these impacts, or even care. But the political system will."

The Chinook helicopters are assembled in the Boeing plant in Ridley Park. Nearly half of its 4,200 employees work on the Chinook helicopters, while others work on the V-22 tilt-rotors used by the Marines, Air Force and Navy.

Thompson wrote that production would not cease entirely, as special operators will need upgrades, but that Army Chinook production is roughly 87 percent of the facility's planned domestic buy over the next decade. The halt in Army delays would bring the assembly line to a very slow crawl and would raise prices.

Thompson believes Pennsylvania is essential if President Donald Trump wants to be re-elected and that if jobs are lost, it would not fare well for Trump in the state.

"It will be an interesting bit of political theater to see how this part of the Army’s budget request plays out in the White House and on Capitol Hill in the coming months," Thompson wrote.

Block I upgrades will wind down in 2023, which is when Block II is supposed to begin. 

The Block II upgrade was supposed to address problems with new rotor blades, a new fuel system and improvements to the helicopter’s drivetrain and airframe, according to The Weekly Standard.

The new helicopters were also supposed to be able to carry a larger load farther and more safely than before.

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