USAF Still Deciding What it Wants in New Choppers

Air Force officials are still making up their minds as to whether the service will move to buy an existing chopper or a new one to replace the service's ageing UH-1 Huey and HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters.

Air Force officials are still making up their minds as to whether the service will move to buy an existing chopper or a new one to replace the service’s ageing UH-1N Huey utility helicopters and HH-60 Pave Hawk combat search and rescue choppers.

“We’re still working through the requirements” on the replacement aircraft for those choppers, said Air Force Secretary Michael Donley during a breakfast with reporters in Washington this morning. “We’re trying to craft requirements and acquisition strategy that will get the best value for the war fighter and taxpayer, at the same time. We have yet to come to resolution on that requirement; it’s getting lots of intense attention at senior levels of the Air Force.”

He went on to describe the tension that exists between the need for modern, high-performance choppers and keeping costs down.

“We’re trying to find that sweet spot between off-the-shelf existing vertical lift capabilities that are out there and war fighter requirements and, again, the issue is getting the best deal that we can and combining these” factors, said Donley.

When asked if the service has decided to base its helicopter-replacement contest on buying an off-the-shelf chopper, Donley replied, “We’re not there yet.”

Last year, reports surfaced that the Air Force wanted to simply buy number of UH-60 Blackhawks from the Army to quickly replace the 90 or so UH-1N that are used to patrol missile fields, perform some search and rescue missions and ferry VIPs around Washington. Air Force leadership has since stated that competition will almost certainly be involved in replacing the Hueys.

The service is also moving ahead with a program replace its heavily used HH-60 rescue helos starting in the middle of the next decade. This comes after the debacle that was the CSAR-X effort which sought to replace the Pave Hawks with a brand new rescue bird that far exceeded the capabilities of the HH-60. That effort became mired in protests and was ultimately cancelled by defense secretary Robert Gates.