CSAR-X contest attracts fresh flak

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Sikorsky voices 'vigorous opposition' to new request for proposals, claiming Boeing's HH-47 retains unfair advantage

The US Air Force has invited three competitors for a disputed helicopter contract to submit revised bids, but the scope of its amended terms has prompted a fresh and public outcry from one of the bidding teams.

Sikorsky is "not entirely thrilled with the narrowness of the evaluation we see in the draft solicitation documents", the company's president Jeffrey Pino told Flight International. "We are not convinced yet we are seeing the right evaluation for any of the products offered, especially ours."

The CSAR-X combat search-and-rescue programme has been in limbo since January, when the US Government Accountability Office sided with Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky, which had formally protested that the air force's decision in November 2006 to award the contract to Boeing was unfair.

The key issue in the dispute was how the air force calculated the "most-probable" maintenance costs of the competing aircraft types - Boeing's HH-47 Chinook, the Lockheed/AgustaWestland VH-71 and Sikorsky's HH-92.

Reasoning that maintenance cost data was lacking for the relatively new VH-71 and HH-92 types, the USAF used the Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk as the cost baseline for all three types.

 
© Boeing    

Boeing's HH-47 was unfairly favoured in original contest

The GAO concluded that this method unfairly favoured the HH-47, which with a twin-rotor would be likely to have a higher maintenance cost burden than its rivals, and recommended that the air force recompete the contract using data based on cost estimates for the aircraft under consideration.

The USAF on 29 May issued a request for proposals for the three teams to amend their bids. However, it promises to only consider the revised cost data, rather than recalculate the source selection formula based on the new information. The new RFP "provides the original offerers an opportunity to quantify and substantiate potential maintenance manpower efficiencies based on the reliability and maintainability characteristics of their proposed aircraft", it says.

The move prompted an angry response from Sikorsky, which publicly released a letter sent to the air force on 21 May. "Rest assured, Sikorsky will vigorously oppose any effort by the air force to repeat its mistakes, make new ones, or otherwise bypass the mandate for full and open competition," wrote Ariel David, its director for government contracts and associate general counsel.

Boeing says it is "confident that the HH-47 will remain the aircraft of choice for the US Air Force".