In a seemingly surprise reversal of policy, U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah James announced on March 4 that the Air Force would "realign about $430 million" from other projects in its defense budgets to help pay for the new Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH), the replacement for the existing HH-60G Pave Hawks, between 2014 and 2020.
James said that the decision “protects a good competitive price and effectively uses the $334 million Congress appropriated for the program.” However it is dependent on Sikorsky holding its price and it is still subject to several reviews including Milestone B (considered to be the main starting point of the program).
The initial personnel recovery vehicle program was for 141 helicopters while the current CRH program has reduced that to 112 helicopters at a final cost of around $6.8 billion. An official award is expected in June 2014. However, the continuous expansion of the operating capability of the airframe which uses Lockheed Martin’s mission management and control system has meant that it has even homed in on locator beacons thrown by troops on the ground.
In the last competition, of which Sikorsky was the only bidder, it was selected to supply the CRH program with its modified version of the H-60M. Before that Boeing had won the contract in 2006, previously known as CSAR-X, with its new version HH-47 Chinook. Sikorsky had offered an HH-92 Superhawk while the Lockheed Martin/AgustaWestland partnership bid its VH-71, a version of the AW101. Boeing’s winning bid was protested by the other competitors and the Air Force subsequently cancelled the program.
A statement released by Sikorsky noted: “Sikorsky and our teammate Lockheed Martin thank the U.S. Air Force for enabling us to build a modern and affordable combat rescue helicopter that will replace the service’s rapidly aging HH-60G Pave Hawk fleet. We are honored to be part of the sacred mission of leaving no combatant of the U.S. armed forces or its allies behind on the battlefield. We look forward to working with the Air Force to deliver CRH-60 aircraft in the prescribed timeframe.”