WASHINGTON — The Air Force had planned to award two contracts this summer for major aircraft competitions, but one of them — the UH-1N Huey replacement — may slip into the fall, the service’s top civilian said Tuesday.
For the UH-1N Huey replacement, the service had planned to decide among three competitors sometime in June. However, a pre-award protest by Sikorsky, denied by the Government Accountability Office last week, resulted in a delay of contract award to the fourth quarter of fiscal 2018 — or sometime before Oct. 1, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the service seems to finally be getting ready for a downselect on the T-X trainer program, which was originally set for contract award by calendar year 2017.
UH-1N replacement program
Replacing the aging UH-1N — which is used to secure nuclear missile silos, among other tasks — has been a priority in Congress as well as the head of U.S. Strategic Command, Gen. John Hyten. However, the Air Force has struggled for years to get a program steaming ahead, considering options such as sole-sourcing UH-60 Black Hawks before settling on an open competition.
At the Atlantic Council on Tuesday, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said she understood the importance of moving the Huey replacement effort along, but that a contract award in June probably isn’t in the cards.
“We’re going to try and not let that slip too much because we know we need to get the Hueys replaced, but we did get a delay,” she said.
The Air Force wants to buy 84 new armored helicopters. The Huey replacements must be capable of carrying nine fully loaded troops without needing to be refueled for an endurance of at least 225 nautical miles. They also should be able to fly three hours while maintaining a 135-knot cruise speed.
The competition comes down to three entrants: Sikorsky’s HH-60U, a version of the Black Hawk with rescue hoist and electro-optical sensor; a Boeing-Leonardo team that is putting forward the MH-139, a militarized version of the commercial AW139 helicopter; and Sierra Nevada Corp., which is offering life-extended versions of used Army UH-60Ls.
Because the Air Force had originally wanted to buy new Black Hawks, Sikorsky was viewed as the likely winner of the competition. However, the company took issue with the technical data rights requirements specified by the service and filed a protest with the GAO in February. The office shot it down on May 22.
Wilson said the Air Force received formal notification of the protest the next day and is now moving forward with the program.
The service is planning for the arrival of its first new helicopter sometime in the 2020/2021 time frame.
T-X trainer jet program
Wilson believes the Air Force will be ready to award a contract for the T-X program sometime during the next few months. “As I understand it, we are still on track to make that decision this summer, but they’ve got all their proposals in and they’re in the proposal evaluation phase,” she said.
“I intentionally don’t ask the specifics for evaluation of proposals, but they’ve told me that they’re on time for a summer decision. So summer means when? June, July, maybe August.”
Over the $16 billion program, the Air Force plans on buying 350 T-X aircraft to replace its aging fleet of T-38s.
Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries have teamed to offer the T-50A; Boeing and Saab have collaborated on a clean sheet T-X design; and Leonardo is marketing a version of its M-346 trainer called the T-100.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.