The US Navy's Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) has released a request for proposal (RFP) for a new VXX presidential helicopter to replace the service's ageing Sikorsky VH-3D and VH-60N fleet.
As expected, NAVAIR has adopted a risk-averse development strategy in the wake of the failed attempt in 2004 to substantially modify the Lockheed Martin/AgustaWestland VH-71A Kestrel with a new airframe, engine, drive system and tail rotor.
"Offerors will be highly encouraged to propose an existing, in-production helicopter platform from which the VXX will be derived," a NAVAIR document reads.
"It is the Government's desire to hold development to an absolute minimum on the VXX Program and focus the program effort on integration of mature subsystems on a mature platform."
While NAVAIR says that minor changes to whatever platform is selected are inevitable, "change to major components such as drive train, rotors, engines and basic structure is highly discouraged." As such, the navy is encouraging potential contractors to avoid proposing immature technology.
NAVAIR also says that any proposed aircraft should already be certificated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or another civil airworthiness authority with a bilateral agreement with the FAA. A US military certification or a clear and imminent path to gaining such a certification is also acceptable.
NAVAIR's Presidential helicopter programme office is working with the Naval Air Warfare Center - Aircraft Division (NAWC-AD) at Saint Inigoes, Maryland, to assemble the aircraft's executive communications suite. The contractor will have to integrate that suite onto the aircraft, the navy document says.
The document also states that the contractor will have responsibility for furnishing the cabin interior and the overall performance of the VXX system.
AgustaWestland is expected to offer the AW101, while Sikorsky will likely bid the S-92. Bell-Boeing may offer a variant of the V-22 Osprey. The winning airframer would be expected to deliver six developmental helicopters, nine low rate initial production aircraft and eight full rate production aircraft over a total of about eight years.