New details are emerging with the Air Force's plan to replace its fleet of heavily used HH-60G Pave Hawk Combat Search and Rescue helicopters; namely, the service now hopes to award a contract in late fiscal year 2013 with the aircraft being ready to fly missions by FY-17 or early FY-18, according to service briefing document.
This signals a delay of a little over two years when compared to a request for information posted on FedBizOpps early last year that stated a mission ready or, Initial Operational Capability, date of no later than Sept. 30 2015.
Over the last ten years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan the Pave Hawks have become some of the most heavily used choppers in the Pentagon's inventory. The rescue birds are the only aircraft in DoD dedicated to performing extremely high-risk rescue missions; whether into a hot LZ or in bad weather, the Pave Hawks and their highly-trained crews of pilots and PJs will come when called. Needless to say, this has taken its toll. Right now, the Air Force is down to about 99 HH-60s from an authorized total of 112 due to combat losses and accidents.
The service has initiated a band aid program to replace the 13 lost aircraft in the next couple of years with UH-60M airframes purchased from the Army. Still, this does little to address the fact that the vast majority of the CSAR fleet is aging and overused, with dozens of airframes developing stress cracks.
Now, more than two years after the cancellation of the $15 billion CSAR-X effort, the service is inching toward a less-technologically ambitious round of competition to replace the birds, with a draft request for proposals 'notionally' scheduled for early FY-12 and a final RfP out later that year followed by the FY-13 contract award, according to an Air Force briefing slide on its chopper purchasing strategy titled, Air Force Helicopter Acquisition Update.
This would be followed up by a little more than four years of development and test work using two test aircraft wrapping up in early FY-17. Meanwhile the first four choppers in the batch of 38 Low-Rate Initial Production aircraft will start to be delivered in FY-16. Six more will be added in FY-17, ten in FY-18, 18 in FY-19 and another 18 in FY-20 as the program shifts into full production. However, this schedule is only "notional" according to the document and relies on the service receiving at least $11 million in R&D cash in FY-12 to create an RfP and all the other tasks associated with starting a new procurement effort, according to the document.