Air Force Will Hold Chopper Replacement Contest, After All

So, the Air Force has listened to (or cowed to, depending on your perspective) the defense industry and has decided to hold a “full and open competition” to replace its aging fleet of about 90 UH-1N Hueys and its 112 HH-60 Pave Hawk combat search and rescue birds, sister site DoDBuzz is reporting. What’s significant about this is that, for a while, it appeared the service wanted to bypass competition and buy some new UH-60Ms from the Army to replace the Hueys as quickly as possible.

The Huey’s are aging quickly and as Global Strike Command officials will tell you, they lack the range to fly from one end of an ICBM field to the other without refueling. This is significant because the majority of Air Force Hueys are tasked with patrolling the nation’s Minuteman III ICBM fields. The remainders are used to ferry VIPs around Washington, perform limited search and rescue duties and provide training to Air Force Special Operations Command pilots.

Meanwhile, the Pave Hawk fleet has suffered about a dozen hull losses in everything from training accidents to combat shoot downs. These birds are the only aircraft in the Pentagon’s arsenal that are equipped for and dedicated to rescue missions in seriously dangerous environments. When you need Pave Hawks and their PJs, they come. Needless to say, ten-plus years of constant war have taken a big toll on the HH-60 fleet. But, the last time the Air Force tried to replace the birds with a super-rescue helo under the CSAR-X program, it had some serious problems, including a GAO-sustained protest that eventually led to Defense Secretary Robert Gates cancelling the program in 2009.

So, the aging fleets, combined with pretty urgent need for the choppers led some in the Air Force to want to buy those off-the shelf UH-60Ms as a quick solution to the problem. The birds were a proven design and they met the requirements for both the UH-1’s mission. Heck, Air Force Chief of Staff even said the service would be “foolish” not to consider a quick UH-60 buy. The problem was, industry didn’t like that too much. So now, we’re going to see a contest to replace both types of birds with an off the shelf aircraft. The Air Force is going to keep the performance requirements for both birds tight enough so that choppers already in production can perform the mission with little to no room allowed for a debate over whose ultra-high tech, yet-to-be-built  chopper is best for the mission.

The service expects to drop an RfP for the Hueys by early fall 2011 and have their replacements in service by 2015. The HH-60 RfP is expected in 2012 and an in service date has yet to be established.

Here’s a little guide to the potential bidders for the Huey replacement contest that DT put together earlier this year.

  • ew-3

    “the majority of Air Force Hueys are tasked with patrolling the nation’s Minuteman III ICBM fields”

    Perhaps it’s time to add UAVs to the mix to aid in patrolling.

    • FormerDirtDart

      UAVs are unable to fly the unrestricted airspace over the missile fields. Maybe someday, but not now.
      And, the AF requires an aircraft to fly reaction forces to the missile silos.

  • jamesb

    Ha, ha, ha…..I want everyone to remember the dates quoted here!…..

  • Nadnerbus

    Congratulations everyone. We all just got hosed (taxpayer and the Air force). Industry’s right to squabble over the contract rights is more important than the taxpayer and the Air force’s right to get a replacement helo on time and at reasonable cost.

  • jamesb

    Nadnerbus…..We get hosed regularly…..

    What about the Marines …Marine One caper?
    9 Brand new AW101’s sitting in a hanger while the government figures out a way to give the job and $$$ to Sikorsky….
    Never mind that the ‘new’ American a/c will cost BILLIONS MORE…
    Take a decade to produce …..

    You don’t get it guy….
    It ain’t personal….
    It’s business……

  • OriginalK

    We all just got hosed (taxpayer and the Air force). Industry’s right to squabble over the contract rights is more important than the taxpayer and the Air force’s right to get a replacement helo on time and at reasonable cost.

    Cry me a river. The DOD reduced the aerospace industry to only a few players in the 90s - laying off 650,000 defense workers. Now they whine about having to keep the remnants alive. Yeah, it would be cheaper and easier to just let them go out of bizness and just turn the crank on whatevers in the pipeline. Well, that’s fine with me.

    The DOD has been living off the technology developments of the cold war now for 20 years while pursuing actions against primitives. If and when we go up against a sophisticated enemy there will likely be some very unpleasant surprises.
    That’s fine with me too.


    • blight

      DoD didn’t lay anybody off. This isn’t a command economy. What happened was that war was over, and we didn’t forsee needs for half the equipment we had in the pipe if the Soviets were gone. Voters said they wanted the defense budget to come down, so that’s what the voters got.

  • Arias

    Why not just just upgrade to the UH-1Y, it’s pretty much a new aircraft and the production line is already open. No need to waste 100 million just to write out the contract.

  • Mastro

    Its 200 helo’s- I really don’t have a huge problem with a competitive bid.

    Like anything- the Pentagon just has to manage it effectively so the winner isn’t some 100 ton Super Chinook that can fly when the Earth loses its atmosphere.

  • Richard

    Yes you got hosed to all who think so, Ive been in the USAF for nearly a decade, after the Vietnam war and yes we got funded back into the late 70’s/early 80’s for the Pave Hawks and upgrades on the Pave Low, since then all other efforts of spending went to fighters,V-22, tankers, unmanned aircraft at a much larger price tag. Since most of you think whats best for the USAF, Now pick a medium lift for a better platform and argue that point amongst yourself whats best and type of airframe needed to include the upgrades what aircrew needs who would fly them……….exactly.

  • C Irl

    When no one else will come for you PJ’s will whether it’s the Son Tay rid or the burning MGM Grand to rescue occupants from upper stories. I don’t anyone lost because some bean counter is pinching his pocket book. This I write that PJ’s may live. HOoooyah

  • Lance

    I find this funny after the USAF is expected to have BIG budget cuts coming. WIth KC-X the main priority how far this go? I say there replacement for Hueys is far fetched and I think its some General doesn’t like anything that’s a older design the must be new syndrome strikes again. Its far better to just upgrade the UH-1N to UH-1Y standards.

    Maybe we should retire some of these Generals first.

  • shawn1999

    How can they say “…has listened to (or cowed to…” as if its the Air Force that has been delaying this? By the article’s own admittance, the AF WAS trying to get replacements, Gates nixed it. When the AF tried to band-aid the problem and get newer Hueys from the Army, the Aerospace industry threw a hissy fit and forced teh AF to abandon their plans.

    In other words, the AF isn’t allowed to get new, isn’t allowed to use what another service has no further use for, and is being chastised/blamed for not getting things done. Meanwhile, our troops that need to be RESCUED are suffering by relying on being saved by

  • jamesb

    yep… shawn you got it……


    This year on Aug31 I will have been retired for as long as I was on active duty(28years) and not a F¿©king has changed

  • ColRet

    We, the Air Force, have been fooling around with this for 20+ years. The UH-1N fleet is Vietnam era and they are getting expensive to maintain. They no longer fit the mission in the missile complexes. Our problem has been deciding what we want. The helo pilots want a gunship and the Security Forces want a flying 44-pax bus. Not buying the UH-60 is dumb. AFSPC requirements folks wanted to make a buy in 1996 while the Army was in big time production. We could have bought them at a fraction of the cost we are now going to pay and the Army WANTED us to buy in to the reduce the cost per unit. Sometimes we do dumb things.

  • StratEngagement

    In a globalized economy comparative and competitive advantage must become part of the strategic calculus for U.S. defense acquisition and technology innovation. New isn’t always the best answer for tools used by humans. With the increased emphasis of preventive engagement driving national security in the current administrations national security strategy, rotary wing assets represent critical enablers for assistance provided to other nations. The defense industry should consider positioning a product that can compete with the Russian Mi-17 (and new Mi-171 variants) that is prolific throughout, and dominates the market, in the under developed world important to U.S. security and resource interests. Building them at home could represent U.S. economic development and might even leverage component manufacturing with countries receiving U.S. security assistance a la the JSF program.

  • Enlisted retired

    Bring back the MH53’s. The Navy is still using them. I loved flying those baby’s! They never should have retired them!

  • jamesb

    maybe they could get a few of the new ones from the Marines?