USAF to open $2.6 billion in helicopter contracts to competitive bidding

Washington DC
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The US Air Force has decided to accept competitive bids for two helicopter contracts worth more than $2.6 billion, after dismissing internal proposals to award the deals to the Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin UH-60M Black Hawk.

Announced on 25 April, the decision also clarifies that the air force will not bundle awards for the common vertical lift support programme (CVLSP) and the HH-60G recapitalisation into a single contract.

Instead, the service plans to release a request for proposals for CVLSP before September and the HH-60G next year.

Although immediately hailed by taxpayer watchdogs, such as the Project on Government Oversight, the decision to accept competitive bids will require the air force to revisit one of its most embarrassing acquisition blunders of the past decade.

sikorsky hh-60, staff sgt aaron allmon/usaf
 © Staff Sgt Aaron Allmon/USAF
The US Air Force has decided to accept competitive bids for two helicopter contracts worth more than $2.6 billion, after dismissing internal proposals to award the deals to the Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin UH-60M Black Hawk. 

Two attempts to award the combat search and rescue (CSAR-X) contract to Boeing from 2006-08 were rejected by the US Government Accountability Office because of flaws in the evaluation process.

The air force eventually dropped the CSAR-X programme and started again by creating separate requirements to buy about 112 helicopters to replace 99 HH-60Gs and 93 more to replace about 62 Bell UH-1Ns for CVLSP. But it was not clear if it would allow the contracts to be opened for bidding.

Global Strike Command pushed the air force's acquisition community to award a sole-source contract to the Sikorsky/Lockheed team offering a modified UH-60M to meet both requirements.

The air force is allowed to circumvent competition rules in certain cases by invoking the 1932 Economy Act, which allows government agencies to buy equipment off existing contracts during national emergencies.

But the proposals drew criticism from some US lawmakers and watchdog organisations concerned about the USAF's attempt to secure the best possible deal through a competitive selection process.

The Sikorsky/Lockheed team supported the alternative, sole-source plan, but still "welcomes" the competition, the companies say.

AgustaWestland North America, meanwhile, is "eager" to offer the AW139 for the CVLSP contract and perhaps the AW101 for the HH-60G recapitalisation programme, says Dan Hill, vice-president of strategy and business development.

Both contract opportunities also could draw bids from the Boeing HH-47, Bell UH-1Y Super Huey and EADS North America's version of the Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma. Bell Boeing has also proposed the V-22 Osprey to replace the HH-60G fleet.