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Air Force Cost Goals Restrict Competition for New Rescue Helicopter

The U.S. Air Force is once again trying to attempt to buy a new aircraft to replace their MH-60 rescue helicopter fleet from the Eighties. The original CSAR-X program faltered twice earlier this century due to protests. Boeing (BA) had one the last contest with a version of the CH-47 but after protests from the losing bidders it was decided to start over.

The current Combat Rescue Helicopter program had put out a RFP for new proposals due in January. The goal is to buy just over 100 aircraft at a cost of $6.4 billion.

Unfortunately it was announced this past week that the only company interested in bidding on the contract is Sikosrky, part of United Technologies (UTX), teamed with Lockheed Martin (LMT). Sikorsky made the current HH-60 fleet. Other potential bidders including Augusta Westland, Eurocopter, Bell and Boeing believe that the cost goals will be too hard to meet for their products. Some have basically said the contract requirements were written in such as way so only a version of the UH-60 Black Hawk could meet them.

The Pentagon is obviously trying to reduce cost but at also at the same time promoting competition. Sometimes, as here, the two things don’t always work together as to attract bidders there must be some profit in it for them.

The Air Force has struggled with large acquisitions for a few years now. The new aerial tanker, KC-X, took 3 tries before Boeing won. The CSAR-X has already been discussed. They are currently redoing the Light Air Support aircraft contest after Embraer and Sierra Nevada’s win of the original contract was overturned on protest.

Whether they want to continue the current contest with limited bidders or try to re-do the requirements to attract more will be the next decision. They could just wait and see if more then one bid in January as originally intended.

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