Service calls on accountability office to reopen its investigation into HH-47 protests

Turmoil surrounding the US Air Force's CSAR-X combat search-and-rescue programme deepened last week, with the service asking the Government Accountability Office to reopen its investigation of protests filed by the losing bidders and rule on all 21 issues they raised before it decides whether to restage the competition.

The Congressional watchdog last month upheld protests by Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky over the selection of Boeing's HH-47 Chinook for the 145-aircraft programme, but based its ruling on just one issue - evaluation of the life-cycle costs of the three competing helicopters. The GAO recommended the USAF reopen the competition (Flight International, 6-12 March).

Confirming the USAF has filed a "request for reconsideration", GAO lawyer Michael Golden says the watchdog did not rule on other issues raised in the protests "because of the nature of the corrective action". The recommendation to reopen the competition "rendered the other issues academic in our judgement", he says.

The air force had hoped to respond to the GAO's recommendation "narrowly" by addressing only the cost calculation issue, but the watchdog reiterated its demand that the competition be reopened. By asking the GAO to reconsider the protests, the service is seeking to ensure all issues are ruled on before it decides whether to reopen the competition.

In parallel, says US defence analyst Loren Thompson, the USAF is working internally to address the most important issues raised by the protests. The service hopes to resolve the dispute within the next 90 days, he says, without restaging the competition - in an effort to avoid the CSAR-X issue interfering with its KC-X tanker competition.

Boeing, meanwhile, says re- competing the contract would potentially be unfair because the losers have had time to address weaknesses in their original bids identified by the USAF in debriefs given after the competition. But the company also believes it would still win, based on an original evaluation that the HH-47 offered the best performance and lowest risk despite its higher cost.

Thompson doubts whether the USAF can avoid reopening the competition, adding: "The air force is caught between the prospects of competing protests, whichever way it goes."

Source: Flight International