The US Marine Corps has launched an analysis of alternatives (AoA) to identify potential replacement rotorcraft for its ageing fleet of Sikorsky VH-3D presidential transport helicopters. At the same time, the US Air Force is drawing up an operational requirement for a new medium-size combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) helicopter opening up the possibility of a common selection.

The Center for Naval Analysis has been commissioned by the USMC to conduct the AoA, due to be completed by the end of this year. Candidate machines are set to include the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor, the EH Industries/ Lockheed Martin US101 and Sikorsky S-92. Another option could be to further extend the life of the VH-3s to 2014 or beyond.

A key discriminator in the VVIP evaluation will be a machine's demonstrated maturity, which is likely to put the troubled Osprey at a disadvantage. Attention is focused on the USAF's recently completed AoA for replacing its Sikorsky MH-60G Pave Hawk CSAR machines. The report recommended the acquisition of a new, more capable medium-size helicopter rather than attempting to upgrade the MH-60G.

Industry sources suggest the Pentagon is considering linking the two decisions and choosing a common type. The air force is set to seek Pentagon approval for a CSAR operational requirements document later this year and begin drafting a request for proposals in 2003. The original CSAR schedule called for acquisition of a new helicopter to begin around 2007, but there are moves inside Congress to accelerate the programme after the Afghan conflict.

Source: Flight International