A UH-1N Huey helicopter from the 37th Helicopter Squadron at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, performs close air support during a joint training exercise in the Powder River Training Complex in western South Dakota, Dec. 7, 2017. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force
The U.S. Air Force will buy a new helicopter to protect its nuclear missile fields even if it kills Gen. John Hyten or he is forced to murder someone, the Strategic Command chief said Aug. 1.
"We’re going to get a new helicopter if I have to die trying, or kill somebody to do it,” Hyten said Wednesday at STRATCOM’s 2018 Deterrence Symposium in Omaha, Nebraska. “We are going to get a new helicopter."
The program to replace aging Air Force UH-1N Hueys could be delayed two years unless Congress extends access to $83.4 million beyond September. If a contract is not awarded in the current fiscal year, the service will not be able to program money to start production before fiscal 2020, according to Air Force budget documents.
The Air Force plans to buy 84 helicopters to replace its aging Huey fleet. Aside from patrolling and servicing ballistic missile fields in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, the new helicopter will provide emergency transport to support continuity-of-government operations in Washington, D.C.
Three companies are offering replacements for the UH-1. Boeing is pitching the MH-139 based on Leonardo's AW139. Sikorsky is offering the HH-60U, a variant of the UH-60M Black Hawk while Sierra Nevada Corp. proposes to upgrade old Army UH-60A Black Hawks into UH-60L Force Hawks.
Hyten complained the effort to replace Hueys fielded beginning in 1970 was “taking way too long.”
A contract award initially was planned for June, but a pre-award protest by Sikorsky to the Government Accountability Office delayed it until September. That protest was dismissed in May, but the 100-day delay put funding to award a contract at risk, according to the request.
The Air Force UH-1N fleet has been continuously upgraded since its fielding. The UH-1N that entered the service in 1970 to provide search-and-rescue capabilities eventually expanded its mission profile to include missile security, distinguished visitor, survival school and test support.
HH-1H's and UH-1F's supporting missile wings were eventually replaced by the UH-1N due to the greater safety and capability offered by the twin engine, according to the Air Force. The service has a fleet of 59 H-1s in operation.
"That Huey can do things that just a few years ago it couldn’t,” Hyten said.
A Defense Department reprogramming request sent to Congress in July describes the replacement program as “high-risk” for delay if it loses funding that expires Oct. 1. Congress already approved $86.8 million for the program in fiscal year 2017, but that amount is good only for two years.
To “optimize the use of funds that are expiring” in the current fiscal year, the Air Force is asking Congress to move $83.4 million or risk delaying the contract award until fiscal 2020, the request said.
The industry remains hopeful that Air Force officials will complete source selection and award a contract in September. Initial proposals were due in September 2017 with final proposals for the UH-1N replacement were due in mid-July.
Dan Leone, reporter for sister publication Exchange Monitor, contributed to this report.