As the three competitors this week finalised their latest proposals for the US Air Force combat search and rescue contract decision, Lockheed Martin unveiled a networking strategy that it considers a key discriminator in the contest.

The Lockheed/AugustaWestland team, offering the US101, is competing against the Boeing HH-47 and the Sikorsky HH-92. The competition has been focused mainly on size and capabilities of the different aircraft, but Lockheed believes its networking strategy could be a major factor in the USAF's evaluation.

 © Lockheed/AugustaWestland

Boeing's HH-47 team has touted its own considerable expertise in networking technology, while Sikorsky has teamed with a separate Boeing division that is already selected to upgrade the USAF's airborne command and control fleet with updated communications.

Lockheed points out, however, that neither Boeing nor Sikorksy has specific experience with integrating the situational awareness datalink, a key waveform needed to integrate the CSAR fleet with the Lockheed/Northrop Grumman A-10C on rescue missions.

Lockheed was responsible for integrating the datalink on the A-10C as part of the precision engagement upgrade programme, says Bob Silva, A-10 business development lead.

Lockheed has also developed the software used to operate the time-critical targeting cell in the USAF's air operations centre, and has continually run simulations to refine the concept of operations for the HH-71 team.

"As it relates to the global information grid, that's our line of business. That's what we do," says David Milkovich, Lockheed's horizontal integration programme manager.

The CSAR-X contract is back in play for the third time since the USAF originally selected Boeing in November 2006. That decision was overturned by the US Government Accountability Office, and the USAF's second bidding process was also thrown out by the auditing agency.

In the third round of bidding, the competitors submitted their proposals in May. The USAF has followed up with a series of queries about the bids for each of the competitors. The last of the queries were answered by each of the bidders by 31 July.

The USAF is expected to call for a best and final offer in September. At that time, the USAF will also set the timeline for how long the bidders must guarantee the pricing data in their final offers.

The timing of the guarantees could become an issue if the USAF is unable to award a contract by the year-end. With the senior leadership decapitated in recent months and a new administration coming into office in January, the USAF may be hard pressed to reach a final decision on CSAR-X.

The USAF is also waiting for the US Department of Defense inspector general to release its findings about an investigation into the CSAR-X acquisition process.

Source: Flight International