The US Air Force has stretched the odds for achieving its goal of a contract award by the end of the year to begin development of a fleet of combat search and rescue (CSAR-X) helicopters.

Instead, the USAF says it will add a seventh amendment to the three-year-old solicitation document to clarify the evaluation criteria for the three bidders- Boeing, Lockheed Martin/AgustaWestland and Sikorsky - as they prepare their final proposal revisions.

The USAF acknowledges the undisclosed change will cause a "minor" delay for contract award, previously aimed at December.

Even a small delay is likely to frustrate the bidders even further after two previous CSAR-X acquisitions were overturned under protest by the Government Accountability Office.

The announcement comes three weeks after the USAF hired an outside consulting firm to monitor the evaluation process.

The office of inspector general, meanwhile, is investigating how the USAF developed the requirements for the original competition, which led to the surprise selection of the Boeing HH-47 in November 2006.

Boeing HH-47
 © Boeing

The release of the seventh amendment must be followed by a notice for final proposal revisions, allowing the contractors to make any final changes to their bids. Once the proposals are submitted, the USAF's source selection evaluation can begin.

Awarding a CSAR-X contract by year-end has been identified as a morale-boosting goal for a beleaguered USAF acquisition workforce, which has botched recent contract awards for new tankers, tanker depot maintenance and the search and rescue helicopters.

"The air force has full confidence in the CSAR-X source selection process," the USAF says. "The clarification underscores the air force's commitment to a fair and transparent competition, consistent with the secretary of the air force's focus on acquisition excellence."

Source: Flight International