Boeing has been awarded the first portion of a $2.38 billion firm fixed-price contract to replace the US Air Force’s Bell UH-1N fleet with its MH-139 helicopter, derived from Leonardo Helicopters' commercial platform.
The $375 million initial award is for four helicopters and the integration of non-developmental items, the USAF announced on 24 September. The total programme cost accounts for the acquisition and sustainment of up to 84 MH-139s, training devices and associated support equipment. The service expects the first operational helicopter to be delivered in fiscal year 2021.
The replacement programme aims to supplant the current fleet of USAF’s UH-1N helicopters, which support the service’s nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile bases in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota. The replacement aircraft will additionally be used for training, test and operational support airlift missions.
The MH-139 is a military version of the commercial AW139, jointly bid by Boeing and Leonardo: the helicopters will be assembled at the latter's plant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with Boeing integrating military-specific components at its facility south of the city.
Boeing outbid Sikorsky’s HH-60U Black Hawk and Sierra Nevada's Force Hawk, an upgraded UH-60L Black Hawk.
The USAF had expected to award the contract in the third quarter of fiscal year 2018, but a pre-award protest over control of particular intellectual property rights filed with the Government Accountability Office by Sikorsky delayed the final decision - the US fiscal year ends on 30 September. Sikorsky lost its appeal to the GAO in May.
The USAF helicopter contract announcement comes several weeks after the US Navy awarded Boeing an $805 million contract to develop four MQ-25A Stingray carrier-based unmanned refuelling aircraft. And, the airframer is in contention for a USAF trainer aircraft contract worth $16 billion which is also expected to be announced this week.