Despite an earlier statement from head of the US Air Force Global Strike Command, a top service acquisition official clarified today that the Bell Helicopters UH-1N replacement helicopter will be required to carry nine fully-equipped combat troops.

The news comes after Gen Robin Rand said on 19 September that the USAF was seeking a replacement helicopter that could carry more troops than the legacy Huey.

If the USAF required the helicopter to carry more than nine troops, the full and open competition would knock several helicopters out of the running and could boost the odds for a Sikorsky Black Hawk victory.

But Lt Gen Arnold Bunch, military deputy for the assistant secretary of the air force for acquisition, tells reporters Wednesday that right now, the USAF is calling for the replacement helicopter to carry nine troops.

“Nine is the requirement,” Bunch says. “That’s the threshold that we’ve been funding with this strategy.”

Bunch also clarifies that the contractor would deliver test assets for the Huey replacements in 2019, but the aircraft would not be fielded until 2021.

The USAF is finalising its acquisition strategy and will deliver a draft request for proposal soon, with a final RFP to be finished in the spring, according to Darlene Costello, principal deputy assistant Secretary of the USAF.

While the service would like to accelerate the acquisition, Costello says the USAF is still pursuing a full and open competition.

The office of Gen Rand could not immediately be reached for comment.