UPDATED: Air Force Clarifies On Requirements
Air Force Secretary Mike Donley told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that he is "absolutely sure competition will be involved" in the the purchase of the Common Vertical Lift Support Platform.
These helos will execute two missions: one is to move lawmakers from Washington in an emergency; the other is to move security forces around the nation's ICBM fields.
Donley's comments went even further than those of Air Force Lt Gen. Mark Shackleford before the House Armed Services Committee.Donley said the service's acquisition strategy on this helicopter should be out by the end of the month.
But, so far at least, the Air Force's own budget does not appear to support their assertions about competition.
The Air Force budget includes money only for what appears to be two production aircraft but there is not one shiny dime in the budget --as far as several budget experts can tell -- to modify an existing aircraft, let alone build a new one. [UPDATE: The budget DOES contain a tiny pot of development money:
As one observer put it: "Since you're buying off the shelf- without even a dollar to add a seat belt of test a winch, doesn't that limit the possible competitors?"5.365M in fiscal 2012 for "missionization of an in-production, non-developmental, Government Off-The-Shelf or Commercial Off-The-Shelf (GOTS/COTS) aircraft including flight testing, Live Fire Test and Evaluation, and airworthiness certification. Funding also provides for development or conversion of COTS training systems, technical data, support equipment, and logistics elements as required for use in an operational environment."]
In the meantime, some of the companies eager to pursue the contract are struggling to ascertain the service's real intentions. If you look at the budget the Air Force would seem to be interested only in buying existing aircraft since it contains $52.8 million in production funds . And the service has talked of using the Economy Act to allow it to buy the helo without resorting to a competition. Lt. Gen. Jim Kowalski, head of Air Force Global Strike Command, told reporters in early February he wanted to avoid competition and buy an existing bird -- probably the Blackhawk -- to meet an urgent and compelling need for helos able to fly security forces to the missile silos in event of emergency or a security breach.
A second observer said he believes the service is split, with acquisition officials favoring a competition and operators favoring an existing aircraft. This observer believes that the requirements in the RFI do not match the warfighters requirements, making this even more confusing. reportedly, the acquisition officials reduced the requirements for the RFI which may have been an attempt to encourage at least the appearance of competition.
But that is "not true," said Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Jack Miller. "The last helo RFI did include the latest Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) validated requirements."
Appropriators and authorizers are beginning to focus on this issue so look for increased congressional action soon.
Among the possible competitors would be: the AgustaWestland AW139M; the Bell UH-1Y, the EADS North America AS332 Super Puma and the Sikorsky UH-60M.
Donley's comments would appear to put this debate to rest for now. But the service will still have to explain the apparent disconnect between its budget and its intentions.