IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi must decide on new helicopters for the Israeli Air Force as soon as possible to replace the aging Yasur helicopters, as the old ones may endanger human life, said the annual State Comptroller’s report released on Wednesday.
“Prolonging the life of the Yasur is liable to endanger human life and may have significant operational implications and substantial maintenance costs,” the report read, adding that the air force should “consider purchasing the Yasur replacement option early so that it will be as close as possible to the date on which the memorandum of understanding [MOU] with the United States is implemented.
“The chief of staff must make a decision as soon as possible vis-a-vis future operational needs as part of the decision regarding the Yasur alternatives and the timetable set for this purpose.”
First used by the IAF in 1969, the Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion Yasur helicopters are the air force’s primary transport aircraft. While it has been upgraded with new electronic and missile defense systems as well as other improvements to extend service life, they must be replaced by 2025 when they will be over 50 years old.
The IAF plans to buy some 20 new heavylift helicopters – in other words, an entire squadron – to replace the current Sea Stallion squadron at the Tel Nof Base. The two options in the running is the CH-53K King Stallion – made by Lockheed Martin Sikorsky, maker of the Yasur – and Boeing’s Ch-47F Chinook helicopter.
According to the comptroller report, there is also a significant gap in the availability of spare parts for the aging aircraft which “require maintenance more frequently.” The report recommended examining alternatives to ensure their continued use.
The maintenance of helicopters was also discussed in the report, referring to the deadly 2017 August crash of an Apache helicopter, saying that the IAF should carry out a “comprehensive and thorough examination of the entire maintenance system for all aircraft, in view of the concern that improper conduct reflected in the final report is also the result of additional maintenance systems in the Air Force.”
The crash – which killed Maj. (res.) David “Dudi” Zohar and left the second pilot critically injured – was caused by poorly trained technicians who did not properly install the steering mechanism. The Apache flew for six months, loosening slowly until it fully dislodged, causing the helicopter to turn sharply to the left and causing the crew to lose control of the tail-rotor steering, resulting in the crash.
The accident “reflects a concern about a systemic problem in the maintenance system,” the report continued, adding that despite the report “the effects of loss of redundancy have not been examined in depth and that there has been no continuous monitoring of future solutions.”
The report also discussed that the air force’s intelligence division has not analyzed the implications of threats facing helicopters and that there has been no joint work with officers from the Ground Intelligence Corps, leading them to lack a “comprehensive and detailed picture of the threats posed to the helicopters and their consequences.”
“It would be appropriate for the Intelligence Branch to analyze the significance of all the threats facing helicopters and to ensure that there is a combination of intelligence by the air and ground forces,” the report reads. “This is in order to present a complete threat picture facing helicopters in their combat missions and to enable the development of a better and broader response to the threats.”
The report recommended that the military and air force should immediately examine and formulate a comprehensive operational concept in response to the threats posed to helicopters and budgetary resources.
In response to the report, the IDF said that most of the gaps raised “were dealt with immediately.”
Most of the issues raised in the report were dealt with and corrected during the course of the audit and before publication of the report, the military said.
According to the military, the IAF set up a task force two years ago to deal with threats, maintain freedom of action and improve the survival of combat helicopters.
On the issue of safety and maintenance aspects of the combat helicopters, the IDF said that the investigation into the deadly 2017 accident “was carried out with great thoroughness.”
“The Air Force supports the conduct of qualitative and comprehensive investigations of every accident in the Force,” the army said, adding that “For each accident, a plan was formulated to implement the lessons, some of them immediately and others within the framework of long-term plans.”