Who’s right: Sole-source to Sikorsky or competition for CVLSP?

The US Air Force is about to make a decision involving a controversial acquisition strategy affecting a domestic versus foreign aircraft competition, but it’s not about the KC-X tanker contract.

This one is called the common vertical lift support platform (CVLSP), which will replace the Bell Helicopter UH-1s owned by Global Strike Command.

There are five known interested bidders: the AgustaWestland North America AW139M, the Bell Helicopter UH-1Y Super Huey, the EADS North America AS332 Super Puma and the Sikorsky UH-60M.

Here’s where the controversy comes in.

Instead of running a competition, Lt Gen James Kowalski, chief of Global Strike Command, wants to award a sole-source contract to Sikorsky. (See my story from the AFA Air Warfare Symposium.) Competitive protests derailed three attempts by the USAF to award a CSAR-X contract to the Boeing HH-47 Chinook since 2005. The CSAR-X contract would have allowed the USAF to replace the UH-1s for CVLSP at the same time. After waiting six years, Kowalski doesn’t want to run the risk of another protest-driven acquisition delay.

Some of Sikorsky’s competitors — in particular, AgustaWesland — think this strategy is flawed, and argue that the air force risks paying too much of the taxpayers’ money on the wrong aircraft.

So what’s the right decision: A sole source contract for the UH-60 or a competitive process?

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7 Responses to Who’s right: Sole-source to Sikorsky or competition for CVLSP?

  1. Royce 23 February, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    The program requirements are odd, since the vast majority of the current UH-1 fleet patrols stateside, but the USAF now wants a beefed up, combat survivable helicopter. Why the change? Where is the AF planning on using these helicopters?

    AW139 is very successful in civil service and would make a very cost-effective off-the-shelf solution if the idea is to have a basic utility transport, much like the EC-145 suited the Army’s LUH program.

  2. Distiller 24 February, 2011 at 7:58 am #

    Do I miss anything??? Isn’t there something called the UH-72A already in the inventory for light duties? Yes, it’s Army, but so what. The CVLSP has basically a paramil mission, no need for a battle hardened UH-60 (as much as I like that aircraft). And doesn’t the “C” stand for “Common”? As in common with what is already in the inventory? Go with the UH-72A I say!

  3. Stephen Trimble 24 February, 2011 at 8:40 am #

    Distiller, The USAF requirement includes carrying a 16-troop security team, with all of their equipment. That rules out the UH-72A.

  4. Royce 24 February, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    You have to wonder about the cost effectiveness of that requirement. How often does the Air Force need to use that high level of capacity in everyday service shuttling people and supplies around missile bases or on VIP missions? Is it possible to use two smaller helicopters that each carry 8 security personnel when they need to, but which wouldn’t spend much of their operational lives flying around at substantially less than full capacity?

  5. George Zip 24 February, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    16 troops in a Black Hawk is pretty much impossible, and the AW139M is not much better (even AW gives the AW139M’s capacity as “up to 15″). A genuine selection based on ’16 + equipment’ would likely dictate the H-92, AW101 or EC725.

    Of course, with the USAF requesting four UH-60Ms in the FY-12 budget (three as recapitalization aircraft and one to replace the Pavehawk lost in the sandpit last year), the Black Hawk has effectively already been selected.

  6. Joe Katzman 24 February, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

    It depends on what the USAF really wants, which may not be what they say they want.

    If they really want a utility helicopter for light duties, then they should probably revise their specs, and just use the UH-72A. Or the larger AW139, which also competed for the Army LUH buy.

    If they really want something that does light utility duties, but can be quickly equipped for front-line use to fill the gaps left by CSAR-X’s demise and an aging Pave Hawk fleet… well, in that case, a sole-source HH-60M buy has a lot to recommend it.

  7. Flash 20 April, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    The UH-72 and the AW139 may seem like a good choice, but for the missions and capacity needs, the HH-60 is the better choice. Along with the power that the HH-60 has for an OGE hover, a rescue hoist, and commanality with the HH-60G Pave Hawks, this still is a better choice. It would allow the AF to have one comman airframe to train crews for, it would also streamline maint. personnel training. All the airframes have good points and bad points, but the AF has been trying to get a replacement for the Huey since the 90′s when I flew the mission. The HH-60 just seems to make sense from my previous experiance flying the Nuclear security, rescue, and VIP missions.mission

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