Military rotorcraft suppliers are preparing to answer the U.S. Air Force’s call for aircraft to replace its obsolescent missile-field support UH-1Ns after congressional pressure prodded that service to drop plans for a sole-source acquisition.
Their interest is spurred by the prospect that Congress may provide credible funding to start the replacement process. A defense appropriations bill passed by the House of Representatives June 16 included $80 million for a UH-1N replacement competition. (President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2016 defense budget submission included $2 billion for 72 helicopters to replace the Air Force UH-1Ns.)
The Air Force’s 62 1970s-vintage Bell Helicopter Hueys guard ICBM sites in Wyoming, North Dakota and Montana. They also provide continuity-of-government and VIP support in the Washington, D.C., region and perform other missions.
The service had planned to piggyback on the U.S. Army’s multi-year procurement of Sikorsky Black Hawks and issue a sole-source contract to that manufacturer to replace the Hueys. Service officials argued that a sole-source award was a necessity because the nuclear-missile support shortfall was critical and urgent.
Key members of Congress, Sikorsky’s competitors and others challenged that plan. They argued the urgency was brought on by the Air Force because it had dragged its feet in addressing Huey performance shortfalls identified a decade ago.
Top Air Force leaders scotched the plan in mid-May, declaring the service “is moving forward with full-and-open competition for replacement of the entire UH-1N fleet.”
In addition to the Black Hawk, Airbus Helicopters H145 and other aircraft could be contenders for the competition, as could Bell Helicopter’s 412EPI or 525 Relentless and Leonardo’s AW139.
The House-passed defense appropriations bill proposed by Montana Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke includes a clause that would withhold 25% of travel funds for the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics until the Defense Dept. certifies that acquisition of the Huey replacement will be under contract by fiscal 2018.
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