A new effort to find a replacement for the aging helicopters that serve the U.S. president has begun with the release Nov. 23 of a draft solicitation aimed at potential competitors.
The request for proposal (RfP) is the first step in the U.S. Navy’s acquisition process to develop the new helicopters under the VXX program.
The presidential helicopter fleet is operated by the Marines — hence the well-known “Marine One” call sign of whatever helicopter the president is aboard — but the Navy Department handles procurement and funding of the aircraft.
The aim, according to the request, is to acquire up to 23 operational helicopters, the first of which is to enter service in 2020. The Navy is seeking a proven design as the basis for the VXX.
The current presidential fleet is made up of VH-60N “Night Hawks” and VH-3D “Sea Kings,” both produced by Sikorsky.
The new program replaces an earlier effort, also known as VXX, which was canceled in 2009 after dramatic cost and schedule overruns. The earlier program was plagued by numerous requirements changes driven by the Secret Service and the Bush White House.
The program, which pitted Sikorsky against Lockheed Martin as prime contractor competitors, was killed by the new Obama administration as an example of wasteful spending, particularly after stinging program criticism by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Lockheed has since announced it will not bid as a prime on a new VXX program, and instead has partnered with Sikorsky to handle systems development. According to the company, Sikorsky intends to offer an aircraft based on its S-92 model.
Other competitors could include Boeing, offering a variant of its H-47 twin-rotor helicopter, and AgustaWestland, partnered with Northrop Grumman on a variant of the AW101 helo.
The draft request, according to Capt. Cate Mueller, “is for the engineering and manufacturing development [EMD] phase of the program, to include three EMD aircraft and four flight test articles, and production options to achieve a total inventory of up to 23 aircraft.”
Issuing the draft document, she said, allows the Navy “to solicit and receive feedback from potential bidders on the specification and the contract terms and conditions before release of the final RFP, scheduled for March 2013.”
The draft, Mueller added, “does not commit the government to any contract or expenditure of funds, but it allows the government to survey the market environment for potential bidders and to refine the final RFP before its release.”
An EMD contract, she said, is expected to be awarded around March 2014.
The contract structure of the VXX program will be for a fixed price incentive-type contract for EMD, and fixed-price type options for low-rate initial production and full rate production.
The Pentagon’s 2013 budget submission shows $1.85 billion for the program over 2013 to 2017, with full production procurement taking place in 2015.
The draft request does not indicate a required unit price for the VXX helicopter.
“That’s the point of competition,” Mueller noted.
The RfP comes roughly a month after the Air Force issued an RFP for the new combat-search-and-rescue helicopter (CSAR), a contract for 112 helos worth up to $6.8 billion. Both the S-92 and AW101 are expected to be solicited for the CSAR competition.
The draft VXX request is available online here.