AF lays out helo-buying strategy

The Air Force has rolled out early details for how it wants to replace its Hueys and Pave Hawks

The Air Force is going to buy its new sets of helicopters the old-fashioned way — with traditional competition, service officials announced Monday. The Air Force needs to replace its fleets of UH-1 Hueys and HH-60 Pave Hawks, and over the coming years, it will ask vendors to bid on both of them. Although there was some early ┬ádiscussion that the Air Force might try to fast-track its Huey replacement by getting a batch of helicopters directly from the Army, without a traditional acquisition program, Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Secretary Mike Donley have agreed on a “full and open competition,” the service announced.

The Air Force’s current fleet of Hueys is used mostly by Global Strike Command, which needs them to cover the vast distances at its sprawling missile fields. Its workhorse Pave Hawks do all kinds of battlefield jobs, including combat search and rescue. Because both varieties of helicopters are so important, the blue-suiters want to replace them quickly, even at the same time as they undertake the “full competition.” Here are the goals:

“For [the Huey replacement], we’re anticipating a summer 2011 draft request for proposal release and the final RFP early fall,” said Maj. Gen. Randal D. Fullhart, a top service aircraft-buyer. “We’re proceeding toward an initial operating capability for common vertical lift support platform program in 2015.”

And here’s what the announcement said about the Pave Hawk replacement:

The anticipated request for proposal release for this program will be in 2012, General Fullhart said. While a long-term replacement remains critical, General Fullhart points out that 13 Pave Hawks have been lost to combat, training and civil rescue missions, and 54 of the remaining 99 HH-60G aircraft are currently undergoing repairs to correct major structural cracks. In response, service officials have implemented a short-term solution, the operational loss replacement program, to maintain current CSAR capability.

Air Force officials don’t yet have a target date for when they’d like to see the Pave Hawk replacement in service, a top spokesman tells Buzz. But one thing the service does know is that it will probably buy a variant of an existing helicopter, rather than a brand new one: “We anticipate, based on market research and industry response to requests for information, that a derivative of helicopters already in production will be able to meet warfighter requirements,” Fullhart said, per the announcement.

All right — what should the Air Force buy?