Air Force officials launched the effort to replace the service’s Vietnam War-vintage UH-1N Hueys with commercially available helicopters last year. From the beginning, the Air Force said it would make performance tradeoffs to keep costs down for what is called the Common Vertical Lift Support Platform.
Air Force pilots fly UH-1Ns over the service’s bases in Wyoming, North Dakota and Montana to monitor ICBM sites. The service also maintains Huey fleets at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., to airlift VIPs around Washington; and at Hurlburt Field, Fla., for special operations missions.
Service officials are proposing to buy the UH-60Ms without seeking competitive bids, a move they say will save money, according to the reports by Inside the Air Force and Citizens Against Government Waste.
DoD purchases must generally be offered for bids, but service officials say they can sole-source the Black Hawks under the Economy Act of 1932, which allows federal agencies to buy goods from other federal agencies without having to seek bids from companies.
Under the proposal, the Air Force would acquire the UH-60Ms from the Army, which has been buying UH-60 models since 1979. UH-60 helicopters are built by Sikorsky Aircraft, Stratford, Conn.
The Air Force, Air National Guard and Reserve fly a total of 101 HH-60 Pave Hawks, advanced versions of the Black Hawk also built by Sikorsky.
The Army is replacing its Hueys with 345 EADS-built UH-72 Lakotas in a multiyear contract estimated to cost $3 billion. The non-combat light utility aircraft passed 40,000 flight hours in operational service on Oct. 26.
Air Force officials said they have not made an official decision on the helicopter acquisition plan.
“At this time, the Air Force has not determined the acquisition strategy for CVLSP. All options are under review and no decisions have been finalized,” said Lt. Col. Wesley Miller, an Air Force spokesman.
The service expects to have the first six helicopters under CVLSP delivered by 2015, the target date for initial operational capability. Another 10 helicopters are due no later than Sept. 30, 2017.
Sikorsky spokesman Paul Jackson did not deny the report of the Air Force’s impending purchase, and said the UH-60M could do the job.
“If the Air Force is looking for a hot production aircraft with a proven U.S. military pedigree and multimission capabilities in all environments, while providing real value to the taxpayer, then we have it in the UH-60M,” Jackson said.
The word is getting out about the proposal, which was laid out in an acquisition decision memorandum sent to David Van Buren, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition.
“I have heard these things about the Economy Act, and a lot of people seem to be verifying that, both on the Hill and elsewhere,” said Dan Hill, the AgustaWestland North America vice president for strategy and federal business development. “To my knowledge, there hasn’t been an acquisition of this size or magnitude for any type of weapon system using the Economy Act of 1932.”
AgustaWestland has offered its AW139 medium twin-turbine helicopter to replace the Air Force’s Hueys.
The company, a subsidiary of Italy’s Finmeccanica group, is still waiting for an official response from the Air Force, Hill said.
The Air Force’s sources-sought notice requested the Huey replacement carry nine passengers or 3,195 pounds of cargo and cruise at a minimum of 135 knots for at least three hours without refueling at 6,500 feet.
A Huey cruises at roughly 100 knots and can carry up to 13 passengers.
AgustaWestland’s Hill noted that Sikorsky’s Black Hawk meets the requirements; indeed, he pointed out, it far exceeds some of them. The UH-60M carries 13 passengers and can fly at an averaging cruising speed of 151 knots at 4,000 feet.
Hill said Defense Secretary Robert Gates “is rightly a proponent of the 75 percent solution, and in my mind, going with something the size of the Black Hawk for the CVLSP mission is more like the 125 percent solution.”
Citizens Against Government Waste — a non-partisan watchdog group — also has taken issue with the Air Force’s pursuit of the Black Hawk to replace the Huey.
“Instead of having an open competition for a helicopter that meets the CVLSP requirements, the Air Force wants to cut corners and buy a bigger, more expensive helicopter from the Army. This would be like buying Humvees to replace mail trucks,” the watchdog group wrote on its website.