A Bell Helicopter UH-1N belonging to 37th Helicopter Squadron takes off from its base at F. E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming. U.S. Air Force photo by R. J. Oriez
The U.S. Air Force is currently in the source selection phase of its Bell Helicopter UH-1N replacement contract. Interested in the contract for up to 84 helicopters are Sikorsky with its HH-60U, a Boeing/Leonardo team with its MH-139, and Sierra Nevada Corp. with its modified Black Hawk, called “Force Hawk”.
One competitor has already filed a bid protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
“The Air Force’s interpretations, as stated through its evaluation notices and subsequent oral statements, create ambiguous requirements that will lead to different interpretations by different offerors and prevent fair competition on a level playing field,” said Steve Callaghan, VP of strategy and business development for Sikorsky. “The positions taken by the Air Force are inconsistent with the [request for proposal] and contrary to law.
“Those positions would require relinquishment of rights by our suppliers in privately developed software and technical data, even where that data was developed at private expense,” he continued. “In addition, the unbounded requirements make it very difficult for an offeror to calculate its price for a firm fixed price contract. We are filing the protest now to ensure that the competition is fair for all offerors.”
Essential, Sikorsky noted, the motivation for this protest lies within the definition OMIT data — operation, maintenance, installation and training — which the government does have a right to. But what data is not included?
“Technical data” and “computer software” have their own Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) definitions. Covered within those two definitions are items like assessment reports, engineering drawings, algorithms, processes, source code and more. It’s this type of information Sikorsky has taken issue with.
With this protest, Sikorsky is hoping for the Air Force to release a changed request for proposal, or RFP, that does three things:
- Removes ambiguity
- Defines unbounded requirements before contract award
- Fully complies with DFARs with respect to technical data package and software requirements
“The Air Force is already years late in replacing the Huey fleet. The problems with the current requirements, if not amended, could result in further delays in replacing aircraft operating under waiver today at a volatile and dangerous time in our history,” Callaghan said. “We are seeking a fair RFP that complies with law and regulation that can obtain the Air Force’s true requirement – an off-the-shelf aircraft that meets all of the Air Force’s technical requirements.”
It’s more common to see protests filed in response to an award, by a losing party — as was the case with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection contract.
So, Sikorsky, why now? The manufacturer said it considered alternative solutions. And after "unsuccessful attempts to have meaningful discussions" with the Air Force, Sikorsky felt a protest was its only option.
“Lockheed Martin does not take the decision to protest lightly – especially since this is a course of action we don’t often take," Callaghan said. “This protest is an indication of the seriousness, complexity and high level of challenge we are facing in this competition and today’s [Air Force] procurement environment.”
The protest was filed with the GAO Monday, and the office has a due date of May 23 to issue a decision.
The Air Force expected to award a contract by May 31. However, the protest must be resolved before an award is given.