‘Non-standard’ cracks found in Pentagon helicopters

Story Highlights Cdr. Christoph Zielinski would not confirm whether Army does regular inspections

He said need to fix cracks will be addressed in “non-standard” maintenance

Any repairs will be “non-standard” in terms of cost and length

CNN does not rely on anonymous sources to verify military claims

Military commanders have acknowledged repairing cracks in helicopters to “make them look good,” CNN has learned.

Army Capt. Christoph Zielinski said Wednesday that cracks in the engines of helicopters are “not a regular maintenance check up on most of the helicopters” because they are often “non-standard” maintenance repairs.

“The National Defense Authorization Act says, ‘All aircraft designated as mission critical will be repaired under standard procedures, but specialty maintenance requirements will not be covered,’ ” Zielinski told CNN.

His comments are part of an exclusive CNN report into how the military has struggled to get to the bottom of the issue of cracking and other problems in its helicopters.

Those cracks, which were first brought to the surface last year by a report by the Pentagon’s inspector general, have since been uncovered in nearly 1,000 Army helicopters throughout the Pentagon, CNN has learned.

The Pentagon is still trying to determine what happened to cause the cracks, or the exact nature of the cracks.

Spokespeople for the U.S. Army, Marine Corps and Navy said their leaders have not been given the resources to properly investigate the issue.

So far, those efforts have cost millions of dollars that were intended to fix the aircraft, CNN has learned.

However, Zielinski said an effective method of changing and adding more aircraft parts, along with cultural changes, will fix the problem.

“One of the real solutions to the problem is that you need to fix the cracks to make them look good,” Zielinski said. “That costs more money, but if we have to have these cracks because they are non-standard, then we have to have them. There’s no choice.”

The reporting by CNN is based on reporting by Matthew Chance, Nico Hines and Julian Stafford.

President Donald Trump’s administration has been determined to take on the problem, and that frustration was made clear after recent comments made by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

“We are going to be changing a lot of things,” Mattis said at a think tank event on Tuesday. “We have to make it harder, and we need to make it difficult.”

In June, Mattis revealed that cracks have already been identified in 10% of Army helicopters, based on an inventory of 20,000 helicopters.

The severity of the issue is notable, as cracks are a known issue with many civilian planes and other vehicles. In 2011, for example, at least 300 cracks were found in the engine of a Boeing 747, and those problems were considered relatively minor.

The flaws are being discovered in two ways: It appears many parts are not being installed properly, which leads to broken parts getting installed prematurely, with results that worsen over time.

For instance, the cracks can be found in metal “lobes” (the mainframe parts of the helicopter), walls and especially on the main rotor, where they are often brittle because of high temperature, CNN has learned.

More government agencies are working with military commanders to investigate the problem, and are helping with changes at inspection and design standards.

But the public explanation and pushback from U.S. military leaders are the latest sign of how little the Pentagon knows about the overall state of its aircraft. That means the $31 billion cost of fixing problems is a known unknown.

CNN has also learned that it is likely that some funds won’t be recovered. As some of the parts are replaced, it’s likely the parts won’t return to flying condition, even if those fixes are performed.

This article has been updated to clarify that the cracks could be due to wear and tear and not damage caused by equipment.

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