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Industry Mulls UH-1N Protest

Industry officials are considering filing a protest with the GAO if the U.S. Air Force moves ahead with a rumored plan to purchase 90 choppers to replace its fleet of UH-1N Hueys on a sole source basis.

"We're hoping to have a competition" but "we haven't ruled out" the idea of protesting a sole-source buy for the Huey replacement, an industry official close to the matter said. "No company likes protests, our preference is we wouldn't have to go there."

Such a move would be the third protest in the last five years of a major Air Force weapons buy.

It has been reported that the Air Force is planning to use the Economic Act of 1932 to justify buying the choppers on a sole source basis from the U.S. Army. The act allows government agencies to buy goods from other government entities as a way of quickly getting ahold of badly needed items.

Industry lawyers have begun looking into previous protests of the legislation, which they claim has never been used buy anything as large as a helicopter fleet, according to the official.

"The idea that you'd buy a 150 percent solution" that costs more than other choppers being prepared by industry would be "outrageous," said the official, alluding to claims that the service wants buy about 90 Sikorsky-made UH-60Ms to replace the Hueys.

The official went on to say that the helos industry is planning on bidding for the effort would be cheaper to buy and maintain than the venerable Blackhawk.

This may very well be a blatant move by the defense industry to pressure the Air Force into holding a competition, according to Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia.

"There might be an element of pre-emption here," Aboulafia said of the protest threat. "But if the sole source rumor is true, they might have a point.  On the other hand, there were plenty of folks who thought CVLSP might migrate upwards in size and capabilities."

In 2007, a Lockheed Martin filed a GAO-sustained protest of the Air Force's award of the $15 billion CSAR-X helicopter contract to their rival Boeing. In 2008, Boeing successfully protested the service's granting of the $35 billion KC-X tanker deal to rival EADS.

In the aftermath of both of those protests, Defense Secretary Robert Gates cancelled the CSAR-X program and temporarily took acquisition authority away from the Air Force on the tanker effort.

The service has not yet settled on an acquisition plan for the UH-1N replacement, Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Wesley Miller said on Monday.

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