US Air Force nears picking Huey helicopter replacement
The US Air Force (USAF) is on track to choose a prime contractor for its UH-1N Huey helicopter replacement programme by the end of September, according to a service spokeswoman.
The service is reviewing bids from Boeing, Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky and Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) for a contract estimated to be worth up to $4 billion.
Boeing is offering the MH-139, which is based on Leonardo’s AW139 civil helicopter, while Sikorsky is proposing the HH-60U, a variant of the UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter. Finally, SNC wants to upgrade US Army UH-60A Black Hawks to the UH-60L Sierra Force configuration.
The programme calls for the purchase of 84 helicopters to perform a wide range of missions, including transporting security forces that protect intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fields in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. The USAF now conducts those missions with Hueys it has flown since 1970.
The aging Huey ‘falls short of missile field operational needs - notably speed, range, endurance, payload and survivability’, said the air force’s Global Strike Command, which oversees the ICBM fleet.
Earlier this year, Sikorsky objected to how the service was handling the competition. In February, the company filed a protest with the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), claiming that the winning bidder was expected to turn over too much intellectual property to the air force. The GAO dismissed the challenge in May.
Despite that setback, Sikorsky remains an eager bidder, calling the HH-60U ‘a proven, in-production military aircraft’ and the ‘strongest, most capable’ solution. The HH-60U would be 85% common with the air force’s future HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter, providing ‘significant’ cost savings, Sikorsky says.
Boeing touts the AW139’s active production line in Philadelphia and cites the affordability and popularity of the platform, which is in service with more than 250 governments, militaries and companies across the world. The AW139 fleet recently surpassed two million flight hours.
SNC says that by modernising and remanufacturing existing government helicopters, it would give the air force ‘a like-new aircraft at a much lower cost’.
The company also says it would hand over ‘almost all technical data and intellectual property rights’ to the service, allowing it to avoid being ‘locked in with SNC for the 40-year programme period’.
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