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Air Force Will Hold Chopper Replacement Contest, After All

So, the Air Force has listened to (or cowed to, depending on your perspective) the defense industry and has decided to hold a “full and open competition” to replace its aging fleet of about 90 UH-1N Hueys and its 112 HH-60 Pave Hawk combat search and rescue birds, sister site DoDBuzz is reporting. What's significant about this is that, for a while, it appeared the service wanted to bypass competition and buy some new UH-60Ms from the Army to replace the Hueys as quickly as possible.

The Huey's are aging quickly and as Global Strike Command officials will tell you, they lack the range to fly from one end of an ICBM field to the other without refueling. This is significant because the majority of Air Force Hueys are tasked with patrolling the nation's Minuteman III ICBM fields. The remainders are used to ferry VIPs around Washington, perform limited search and rescue duties and provide training to Air Force Special Operations Command pilots.

Meanwhile, the Pave Hawk fleet has suffered about a dozen hull losses in everything from training accidents to combat shoot downs. These birds are the only aircraft in the Pentagon's arsenal that are equipped for and dedicated to rescue missions in seriously dangerous environments. When you need Pave Hawks and their PJs, they come. Needless to say, ten-plus years of constant war have taken a big toll on the HH-60 fleet. But, the last time the Air Force tried to replace the birds with a super-rescue helo under the CSAR-X program, it had some serious problems, including a GAO-sustained protest that eventually led to Defense Secretary Robert Gates cancelling the program in 2009.

So, the aging fleets, combined with pretty urgent need for the choppers led some in the Air Force to want to buy those off-the shelf UH-60Ms as a quick solution to the problem. The birds were a proven design and they met the requirements for both the UH-1's mission. Heck, Air Force Chief of Staff even said the service would be "foolish" not to consider a quick UH-60 buy. The problem was, industry didn't like that too much. So now, we're going to see a contest to replace both types of birds with an off the shelf aircraft. The Air Force is going to keep the performance requirements for both birds tight enough so that choppers already in production can perform the mission with little to no room allowed for a debate over whose ultra-high tech, yet-to-be-built  chopper is best for the mission.

The service expects to drop an RfP for the Hueys by early fall 2011 and have their replacements in service by 2015. The HH-60 RfP is expected in 2012 and an in service date has yet to be established.

Here's a little guide to the potential bidders for the Huey replacement contest that DT put together earlier this year.

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