WASHINGTON — No surprise here: Sikorsky will propose a derivative of its ubiquitous Black Hawk utility helicopter for the Air Force's Huey replacement program, according to an announcement Tuesday.

The company, now a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, will offer the HH-60U, which incorporates modifications such as a rescue hoist and electro-optical sensor. The Air Force already owns three U-model Black Hawks, which have been flown by pilots and special operators since 2011, the company said in a news release.

The Black Hawk is widely considered the favorite to replace the Air Force's UH-1N Huey fleet. The service initially tried to sole-source UH-60s for that purpose, but reversed course last year and decided to pursue a competition instead.  

According to Sikorsky, the HH-60U has the capacity to transport nine fully equipped security force personnel, their equipment, and two special mission aviators — meeting the service’s troop carrying requirement.

However, the Air Force has stated that none of the current industry options currently meets all of its requirements. The service has pushed its request for proposals release date from February to this summer, giving industry time to assess how to modify their offerings to meet requirements using non-developmental technologies.

A Sikorsky spokesman was not able to comment on whether the HH-60U meets Air Force specifications as currently designed, or whether adjustments will be necessary.

Black Hawks are pervasive in the U.S. military, which could provide an advantage to Sikorsky in a lowest-price, technically-acceptable competition. The HH-60U shares 85 percent commonality with the Air Force’s incoming HH-60W combat rescue helicopter. Both models will go into production during roughly the same timeframe, which could allow the company to wring out savings.

Sikorsky also noted that the U-model could leverage the same support infrastructure as the HH-60G Pave Hawks, which are being retired.

"Sikorsky’s HH-60U Black Hawk offers a proven, capable helicopter that is already in the Air Force’s inventory to meet the critical needs of the UH-1N Huey Replacement Program," said Samir Mehta, president of Sikorsky defense systems and services. "It is a low-risk solution for the Air Force that will enable the service to support two vital national defense missions while realizing the long-term cost savings of the Black Hawk platform."

The Air Force plans to buy 84 UH-1N replacement helicopters for ICBM security support, continuity of government, airlift and other missions. It still intends to award a contract in fiscal year 2018, with deliveries occurring as early as fiscal 2020.

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.

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