Senator Mary Landrieu, an influential Democrat from Louisiana, sent a letter to Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne last week questioning the services decision on a winner for a new combat search and rescue helicopter.
The decision to field a CSAR version of the HH-47 Chinook has been controversial from the start. The two losing companies in the competition, Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky, have protested Boeings win, delaying the program start and buying time for competitive designs to gather political and rhetorical momentum.
The more obvious discrepancies between what the Air Force seemed to be asking for in its CSAR-X RFP, and what the service ultimately picked, have been well covered. But with Landrieus letter, it seems a real-world scenario with a politically-charged event might give Boeings competitors some more momentum.
From Landrieus July 3 letter (Download letter):
I feel it is imperative that I share with you some lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina.
In their desire to rescue as many citizens as possible off the rooftops in and around New Orleans, rescuers unknowingly put citizens at greater risk by simply using the CH-47 Chinook helicopters. Due to the downwash created by the Chinooks twin rotors, these helicopters had to be removed from conducting rescue missions. Instead the CH-47 Chinooks were reassigned to conduct missions such as transporting survivors, food, medical support and sandbags to repair levees. In this capacity, the CH-47 Chinook performed well, but the downwash made them dangerous in direct rescue missions...
...As the Air Force moves forward in the procurement process for a new rescue helicopter, I hope that you will keep in mind the valuable lessons we learned from Hurricane Katrina. I know that we all share the same goal of providing the best equipment possible for our Armed Forces, and I appreciate your taking my concerns into consideration.
So far Boeing as with all controversial programs has been mum on the issue. But if the debate this week over the 2008 defense budget fans the flames on CSAR-X, Boeing might need to put the gloves on and step into the ring.