This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.
The revamped request for proposals (RFP) for the U.S. Air Force's $15 billion Combat, Search and Rescue (CSAR-X) helicopter replacement program puts greater focus on the lifecycle cost calculations that derailed the service's previous procurement effort.
But the latest RFP, issued Dec. 5, also seems to address some of the criticism raised over the Air Force's inability to properly consider such costs in its acquisition decision. The solicitation -- which the three bidders will have to work on through the U.S. holidays to make an early January deadline -- says lifecycle costs must be included in the evaluation.
Bidders say that wasn't the case the first time.
Boeing's HH-47 Chinook variant was initially chosen for CSAR-X over bids from Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky, but multiple bid protests upheld by the congressional Government Accountability Office have delayed the program since 2006. GAO focused on the lifecycle costs both times, saying the Air Force failed to give those costs their just due in awarding Boeing.
Still, the new RFP also says those lifecycle costs will rank at the bottom of the procurement decision - making it more difficult for GAO to uphold another protest on those issues.
Sikorsky officials said they were pleased to see the Air Force require lifecycle costs in the procurement decision but "puzzled" as to why those cost considerations would rank so low. "We're not sure why one dollar in that area is less important than it is in another area," said John Pacelli, Sikorsky's vice president of marketing and business acquisition manager for the CSAR-X program.
Of greater import though -- and a potential positive development for Sikorsky and Lockheed -- is the fact that the Air Force is much more focused on the operational requirements of the aircraft. Executives at both companies feel their helicopters should fare better in comparison to Boeing's Chinook in the combat area - a view not shared by Boeing, of course.
Indeed, Boeing officials say the Chinook has proven itself time and again in war zones. "We are pleased the competition for this critical capability is moving into its final phase and are confident Boeing's HH-47 will again be selected as the warfighter's CSAR platform," the company said.
Lockheed officials have cited CSAR work in Iraq by a British variant of its HH-71 offering.
Read the rest of this story, see sea trials of the Bunker Hill, find out who could win the wearable power prize and delve into the missile debate with our Aviation Week friends exclusively on Military.com.