Funding for the combat rescue helicopter program was included in the federal spending bill released Monday. (1st Lt Sarah Ruckriegle / US Air Force)
WASHINGTON — The US Air Force’s replacement for the long-running Pave Hawk helicopter is slated to receive funds under a massive spending bill unveiled Monday night.
The Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH) receives $333,558,000 as a “congressional special interest item,” in a move that gives some life to a program that Air Force officials have acknowledged is needed, but not a top priority.
“These helicopters need to be replaced,” the bill reads. “However, in a period of fiscal austerity, the program must be affordable to ensure that it is not canceled due to insufficient funding in future years.”
“Prior to any decision to terminate the CRH program due to insufficient funding in future years, the Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force are directed to review the threshold and objective requirements as established in the capability development document and to review alternative acquisition strategies using cost-benefit analysis in order to establish an affordable program,” the language of the bill continues. “The Secretary of the Air Force is directed to brief the outcome of this review to the congressional defense committees.”
While it’s good news for the program, this funding stream doesn’t mean CRH is ready to go. The big question remains whether it will be funded in the 2015 President’s Budget. If not – and indications are that it may be left out – then the program could remain in limbo. That possibility was echoed in a Sikorsky statement on today’s news.
“We are encouraged that Congress continues to support the combat rescue mission with the available funds,” Frans Jurgens, Sikorsky spokesman, wrote in an email “We await confirmation that continued funding exists for FY15 and beyond to enable a contract award this year.”
In November, Eric Fanning, then acting secretary of the Air Force, indicating funding would remain an issue for the platform.
“It’s an important platform with a lot of support, but it will be very difficult because of how little money there is for new starts in the coming year,” Fanning said. “I’m hard-pressed to imagine we can afford to start that soon based on the sequestration numbers and mechanics.”
However, members of Congress have since rallied around the platform, with 74 congressmen issuing a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in support of the CRH.
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, citing restrictive cost requirements. The service officially selected Sikorsky in late November.■