Signing a contract for a next-generation, combat search and rescue (CSAR-X) helicopter by end-year has assumed a new significance now that the US Air Force wants to rebuild confidence in its own professionalism by successfully signing a major weapons contract that can survive protests by the losing party.
Only a month ago, industry officials were sceptical about the chances of a CSAR-X decision before January. But Michael Donley, acting secretary of the air force, believes the suspension of KC-X competitive activity frees acquisition staffing resources to complete the CSAR-X deal before a new administration takes office on 20 January.
Concluding the long-delayed CSAR-X deal could be a key confidence booster for the USAF's beleaguered acquisition workforce. "At my level, I'd like to have increased confidence that we're prepared," says Donley.
The US Government Accountability Office has already overturned two prior decisions on CSAR-X. Both USAF positions had favoured the Boeing HH-47 Chinook. The Lockheed Martin/AgustaWestland HH-71 and the Sikorsky HH-92 are Boeing's rivals for the potentially $15 billion contract to deliver 146 helicopters, including five prototypes.
Final proposal revisions are now due in mid-October. Industry officials expect a roughly six-week evaluation period followed by a decision around 10 December.
Lockheed Martin originally lost despite offering a $3 billion lifecycle cost advantage. The USAF, however, considered Boeing's bid to be a significantly lower risk than the HH-71 and the HH-92. Each of the competitors has since had another two years to refine their aircraft designs and cost proposals.