Members of the 33rd Rescue Squadron fly a Pave Hawk at Osan Air Base, South Korea. (Staff Sgt. Sara Csurilla / U.S. Air Force)
A trio of competitors for the U.S. Air Force’s new Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH) have decided not to bid on the program, leaving a clear path for Sikorsky to land the nearly $7 billion contract.
EADS North America, Boeing and Northrop Grumman all confirmed to Defense News that they will not be putting in a bid on the program before the Jan. 3 due date. The decision was first reported by Reuters.
The new Combat Rescue Helicopter is DoD’s second attempt over the past decade to replace its heavily used Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawks, some of which have been performing military and civil rescue operations since 1982. The Air Force plans to purchase 112 of the new helicopters.
Acquisition officials capped the CRH program at $6.8 billion, meaning any bid that went over that figure would be automatically disqualified.
“The Air Force is committed to a fair, open and transparent process to select a new combat search and rescue helicopter that meets the established warfighter requirements at an affordable price for the taxpayer,” wrote Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick in an emailed response to questions about the program.
“To ensure this occurs, we are prohibited from releasing information while in the request for proposal and selection processes,” Gulick wrote. “Once we select and announce the final contractor we will be able to openly discuss the details of the CRH program.”
Interest in the program had been high — representatives from AgustaWestland, Boeing, EADS, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, L-3 Communications and Sikorsky all attended an industry day in September.
Now, less than a month before proposals were due, all but one known competitor have said they will not bid.
“Boeing and the Bell Boeing Joint Program Office have told the U.S. Air Force that they will not compete the Boeing CH-47 Chinook or the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey in the Air Force’s Combat Rescue Helicopter competition,” confirmed Boeing spokesman Andrew Lee in a statement.
The company said the two helicopters “exceed the parameters” of the request for proposal (RFP) issued in October. Lee added that Boeing informed the Air Force of their decision “in the last week or two.”
“After carefully evaluating the RFP, we have elected not to submit a bid,” said EADS spokesman James Darcy.
“Northrop Grumman has determined that it will not submit a bid to the U.S. Air Force for the Combat Rescue Helicopter program,” Margaret Mitchell-Jones, Northrop spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “We’ve reached this conclusion based on an extensive evaluation of customer requirements under the current RFP. This decision was made jointly with our teammate AgustaWestland and will have no affect on the team’s pursuit of the U.S. Navy presidential helicopter program.”
Sikorsky spokesman Frans Jurgens confirmed the company still plans to submit a design for the program.
“Sikorsky intends to continue with its proposal to offer the Air Force a proven, affordable combat rescue helicopter system to perform the critical mission of saving warfighters’ lives,” wrote Jurgens in a statement.
Sikorsky is teamed with Lockheed Martin on a joint proposal.
In 2007, the Air Force awarded Boeing a contract expected to be worth $15 billion under the Combat Search and Rescue-X (CSAR-X) program. But after the Government Accountability Office upheld a protest from competitors Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin over how the contract was handled, the deal was canceled in 2009. It took nearly three-and-a-half years to relaunch CRH following the CSAR-X cancellation.
Experts warn there could be more delays in the program’s future.
“It’s a tough budget environment to start an entirely new program,” Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group said. He notes that the CRH is competing for funds against high-profile projects like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, KC-46 tanker and new long range bomber, all of which have been named as priorities by new Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh.
“No new program is safe in this budget environment,” Aboulafia said, and “enablers always take a back seat to shooters.”
The contract is expected to be awarded in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2013.