Losers contest GAO decisions

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Another major US defence procurement decision has provoked protests from the losing bidders. Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky have filed protests with the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) over the US Air Force's selection of the Boeing HH-47 for the 141-aircraft, $15 billion CSAR-X combat search-and-rescue programme.

Boeing had braced itself for protests after its heavylift Chinook was selected over Lockheed's US101 and Sikorsky's MH-92 to replace the USAF's much smaller Sikorsky HH-60Gs. Work under its $712 million development contract will be halted until the GAO rules on the protests at the end of February. Other recent GAO protests have been unsuccessful, with the GAO upholding the US Army's selection of Eurocopter's EC145 as its Light Utility Helicopter and the elimination of Lockheed's C-130J from the Joint Cargo Aircraft competition.

Lockheed maintains that its US101, based on the AgustaWestland EH101, was "the most capable and most affordable solution", with a significantly lower life-cycle cost than the larger HH-47. The company believes the criteria used to evaluate the competing proposals "were not applied uniformly" and competitors "received different instructions during the competition".

Sikorsky - which did not protest against the 2005 selection of the US101 over its VH-92 for the 23-aircraft VXX US Presidential helicopter programme - says it filed a CSAR-X protest "to ensure the selection process accurately evaluated the characteristics and performance" of its aircraft, which was based on the MH-92 under development for the Canadian Forces.

Announcing the CSAR-X winner earlier this month, the USAF said the HH-47 was selected because Boeing could deliver aircraft "several months earlier", with greater combat radius and larger cabin, and with terrain-following/terrain-avoidance radar - a capability originally planned for the later, Block 10, version of the CSAR-X.