Competitors for a $10-billion-plus contract to provide the U.S. Air Forceâ€™s next combat search and rescue helicopters are finishing preparations for the latest round of the contentious acquisition program.
Responses to the Air Forceâ€™s latest call for bids (issued Nov. 15, 2007) are due Jan. 7, and Boeing, a Lockheed Martin-led team, and Sikorsky Aircraft are expected to stay in the Combat Search and Rescue-X (CSAR-X) race.
Boeing won the first round when USAF officials 14 months ago picked its HH-47 variant of the Chinook to replace the current fleet of Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawks. The Air Force has about 100 Pave Hawks but wants 141 of the new helicopters.
But two sets of successful protests by the Lockheed Martin team and Sikorsky derailed that contract award. The former, which includes AgustaWestland and Bell Helicopter, is offering a version of the AW101. Sikorsky an S-92 variant.
Another twist was added when the protesters reportedly challenged Air Force plans to brief each team on how their past proposals stacked up against the othersâ€™.
Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky received briefings after Boeing was selected, and have had more than a year to evaluate its winning bid. Boeing officials argued that they were entitled to a similar opportunity before submitting a new bid. The USAF decision to drop the briefings raised the question of whether Boeing would protest itself or even go to court over the past protest rulings.
But the companyâ€™s lawyers made clear that Boeing would have to protest now or forgo that right since the protest arbiter, the U.S. General Accountability Office, requires a filing as soon as a point of objection becomes known. Boeing passed and claimed to have taken the high ground in doing so.
"The bottom line is, this is about the warfighter, and itâ€™s time to finish this process and start building helicopters," said Boeingâ€™s HH-47 program manager, Rick Lemaster.
The protests have delayed the CSAR-X programâ€™s start from November 2006 to this July (the USAF target for a new award). They also have pushed back the target for initial operational capability of the next-generation helicopter from 2012 to 2014.
Despite lengthy delays in its H-1 upgrade program of UH-1Ns and AH-1Ws, the Marine Corps is pressing ahead. It now wants to buy new-build Super Cobras instead of having the aircraft re-manufactured by Bell Helicopter.