The US Navy will shortly issue fresh request for proposals (RfP) to helicopter manufacturers and operators for a three year vertical replenishment (vertrep) service to support the fleet in the Mediterranean Sea and Arabian Gulf.

This latest vertrep contract, extendible for up to five years, follows a series of limited sea trials involving commercially-owned Kaman K-Max and Bell 212 and 214ST helicopters deployed aboard Military Sealift Command (MSC) replenishment ships.

Bidders will be required to provide, operate and support two replenishment helicopters on a full-time basis and an additional two machines for six months of the year.

Each helicopter will be required to lift a minimum 2500 kg (5,500lb) underslung load of stores and ammunition between MSC vessels and attendant battlegroup warships.

The US Navy had originally specified an annual 480h of flight time per helicopter, but this is believed to have been refined in the new RfP. The helicopters must be certified for instrument flight rules for day and night operations. The first deployment is targeted for September.

Potential Bidders will almost certainly again include Kaman with the single-seat K-Max and Evergreen. Both companies have performed earlier vertrep demonstrations, including a six month K-Max deployment to the Gulf in 1996 followed by two Evergreen 212/214STs to the Mediterranean the following year.

The twin-rotor K-Max is again due to participate in the US Marine Corps Urban Warrior amphibious warfare exercise in San Diego in March. The helicopter is being used to test the viability of the Marine Corps' concept of broad-area unmanned responsive resupply operations (BURRO).

BURRO entails using unmanned aerial vehicles operating from high-speed ships like the US Navy Slice vessels to resupply small troops deployments ashore. The K-Max currently uses a global positioning system to simulate a remotely-controlled machine conducting pre-assigned supply drop offs.

Source: Flight International