The US Air Force is pressing reset on the Bell Helicopter UH-1N helicopter replacement programme with a new request for information slated for late next week.

The USAF anticipates releasing the RFI and a draft system requirements document on 9 September, according to a 31 August notice posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website. The service will also announce an upcoming industry day.

The long-delayed recapitalisation programme will replace the USAF’s inventory of 62 Vietnam-era UH-1N Huey helicopters that support the service’s nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile bases in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota.

The UH-1N replacement programme office is preparing detailed acquisition programme strategies and timelines, including the development of a draft request for proposals, a USAF spokesman Maj. Rob Leese told FlightGlobal in a 22 August email. By September, the USAF should finalise total procurement quantities, contract award schedule and cost.

The upcoming RFI will not define a new order quantity or requirements for the replacement, Leese said this week.

"The SRD will allow for industry [and] government interchange at upcoming industry day events and inform the draft request for proposal supporting an open competition," he says. "Program schedules for the release of the draft RFP will be determined following the approval of the acquisition strategy in the coming month."

“Initial aircraft deliveries to the first operational base are anticipated in the FY20-21 timeframe,” Leese stated. “The air force is looking for opportunities to accelerate the acquisition programme schedule.”

Bell UH-1N Huey ICBM security mission. US Air Forc

The air force has a notional plan to award the contract in Fiscal 2018, but that timeline has already slipped once. According to a capabilities request for information posted last August, the USAF anticipated replacing 62 Hueys with 72 aircraft and projected a Fiscal 2017 contract award date. Despite objections from some members of Congress who had pushed the USAF to speed up the Huey replacement by buying into the US Army’s multi-year contract for UH-60M Black Hawks, the USAF is forging ahead with an open competition for the Hueys.

The ICBM mission requires the helicopter carry nine fully equipped combat troops more than 225nm at 135kts, which a Black Hawk could accomplish. However, if the new RFI required fewer than nine personnel, that could open up the competition to the Airbus UH-72A Lakota, Bell UH-1Y and Leonardo's 15-seat, twin-engine AW139 helicopter.

According to a July notice, the USAF is seeking as much flexibility as possible when it comes to amount of aircraft it can procure each year and sought the minimum number of aircraft industry could deliver as an order in one year.

“The government is currently contemplating the use of variable quantity tables to achieve this,” the notice states.

Meanwhile, U.S. Strategic Command submitted a request for forces to the Joint Staff in June for an aircraft that could fulfill the Huey mission.