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CSAR Copter Marks Buying Shift

The Air Force's approach to the new combat search and rescue helicopter program -- call it CSAR-2 -- marks what appears to be an increasingly solid Pentagon trend -- restrained requirements and a sharp focus on improving weapons we've already got.

That became clear when Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin announced today that they are going to bid a modified Blackhawk helicopter for the role of searching for and rescuing downed airmen and troopers. The program, laboring under the distinctly unglamorous name of HH-60 Recap, will replace the current fleet of 112  HH-60G Pave Hawks.

When I asked Scott Starrett, president of Sikorsky Military Systems, whether the new program marked a shift in approach from superb weapons embodying the latest and greatest technology to less ambitious systems with more limited requirements he wandered around a bit and then said "yes." Starrett pointed to the presidential helo program as the first clear marker in this new acquisition hand.

Sikorsky is the prime on this, with Lockheed providing the crucial subsystems for data fusion and other tasks that will differentiate this from other BlackHawks.

Dan Spoor, aviation systems vice president at Lockheed Martin, said the government's “focus now is on low-risk and off-the-shelf capability.”

No Lockheed or Sikorsky folks would provide useful answers to questions about either program cost or unit costs. However, Spoor stressed that the two companies "would offer a really compelling low-cost" solution, clearly indicating that the recently-cancelled CSAR-X's $15 billion was not likely to be their benchmark.

One way to avoid costs is a different approach to the requirements, gradually ramping them up as the program matures instead of stuffing the new helos with the latest and finest available from the beginning, a Lockheed official said.

The companies should benefit from the change in the Pentagon's approach in the sense that their return on investment in the BlackHawk should improve, Starrett said.  "It improves our ROI and, more importantly, it improves the customer's ROI," he said.

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