The head of the US Air Force Global Strike Command is calling for the replacement for the service's Bell Helicopter UH-1N Huey to fly faster, farther and with more personnel, but those requirements could narrow the field of eligible helicopters for what was once a competitive acquisition strategy.
The increased troop requirement for the Huey would also push the USAF to buy a larger, exquisite, combat helicopter for a domestic mission.
Last week, the USAF released a new request for information to replace the 1970s-era Bell Helicopter UH-1N, which supports the service’s nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile bases in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota. In addition to its armed security support during convoy operations, the helicopters also fulfill an emergency security response requirement at nuclear launch facilities.
Although a USAF spokesman stated earlier this month that the new RFI would not define a new order quantity or requirements for the replacement, the new helicopter will be able to carry more troops than the legacy Huey, Rand told reporters at the annual Air Force Association conference Monday.
“We want a helicopter that can carry more people, go farther and get there faster than what we’re currently able to do,” says Gen Robin Rand, speaking to journalists on 19 September at the Air Force Association's annual convention.
“It’s not as efficient as it would be if we had a new helicopter because that would allow us to do a variety of things to counter a lack of distance the UH-1N can go, the lack of people it can carry to do other things, that if we have a helicopter we can free up some assets and be more efficient,” Rand says.
Rand would not elaborate on the number of troops the new helicopter would carry, other than to say the next platform will carry more than the current Huey. Under the current ICBM mission requirements, the helicopter must carry nine fully equipped combat troops more than 225nm (416km) at 135kt (250km/h).
Though a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk can carry 11 combat troops, expanding the number of troops necessary to complete the Huey mission would knock out other contenders for the competition, including the Airbus UH-72A Lakota and Bell UH-1Y. However, Leonardo’s twin-engine AW139 helicopter seats 15 and Airbus’ civil H175 helicopter accommodates 18 passengers.
But if the need exceeds nine passengers, the Huey replacement could return to a Black Hawk sole source, a debate the USAF had settled last spring when the service opted for a full and open competition. Several members of Congress, including those from Connecticut where Sikorsky is based, had argued for an immediate replacement and pushed the USAF to piggyback on the Army’s block buy of Black Hawks. The USAF is looking for opportunities to accelerate the acquisition programme schedule and plans to award the Huey replacement contract in fiscal year 2018.