A pair of Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters flies over Alaska on a training mission. (Master Sgt. Sean Mitchell / Alaska Air National Gu)
WASHINGTON — Sikorsky will be awarded a contract for the US Air Force’s Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH) program in early 2014 — if the budget allows it.
“In response to our competitive Combat Rescue Helicopter solicitation, we received one proposal,” Air Force spokeswoman Erika Yepsen wrote in an email Friday. “That offer from Sikorsky Aircraft Company has provided an acceptable technical solution and we intend to award a contract based upon budget availability.”
“We are laying the groundwork to award the CRH contract in the second quarter of fiscal year 2014,” the statement continued. “The award is contingent on the outcome of the president’s budget review process where CRH would need to be funded across the future year’s defense program.”
The statement confirms two things that had been widely accepted on the CRH contract — that Sikorsky’s offering has been selected, and that any award is dependent on getting the program into the budget. The Air Force had planned on handing out a contract before the calendar flipped, but that date has been delayed due to budget uncertainties.
Those same uncertainties threaten the entire CRH program, which reportedly is not funded under the Air Force’s sequestered budget. This week, Eric Fanning, acting Air Force secretary, said he would be “hard-pressed” to imagine the CRH program can be funded soon.
The CRH program is the Defense Department’s second attempt in the past decade to replace its heavily used Sikorsky-built Pave Hawk helicopters, some of which have been performing military and civil rescue operations since 1982. The Air Force wants to buy 112 new helicopters for the combat search-and-rescue mission.
Despite the Air Force publicly calling for an open competition, the only bidder for the program was Sikorsky, teamed with Lockheed Martin. Three other competitors dropped out of the competition citing restrictive cost requirements.
A Sikorsky spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.