Air Force Asks For New Bids On Rescue Helicopter

The Air Force's announcement is a victory for Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky, which had protested an original decision to award a contract for search-and-rescue helicopters to Boeing.

Here's Reuters' take:

By Jim Wolf

The U.S. Air Force expects to award by mid-February a recompeted contract for a new rescue helicopter fleet valued at up to $15 billion, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne said on Wednesday.

The mid-February date, cited by Wynne in congressional testimony, contrasted with a spring time frame cited by his acquisition chief earlier this month.

The Air Force did not immediately explain the discrepancy between Wynne's target date and that floated as recently as Oct. 4 by Sue Payton, the service's top weapons buyer.

Lockheed Martin Corp, one of two losing bidders in the original competition, reacted positively to the bidding rules' latest draft changes, released late on Tuesday.

The fresh proposal "does offer bidders the opportunity to submit new information in all categories, including technical and cost," said Frans Jurgens, a Lockheed spokesman in Owego, New York.

Boeing Co last November captured the initial contract for the combat search and rescue helicopter replacement program, known as CSAR-X. It won with its tandem-rotor HH-47 Chinook helicopter, a relatively heavy choice that drew a statement of surprise from Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Michael Moseley.

The Air Force agreed to reopen the competition after the Government Accountability Office, a congressional oversight panel, sustained back-to-back protests by Lockheed and Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp -- the other losing bidder.

Wynne, appearing with Moseley before the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, said he anticipated making an award by mid-February after urging the bidders to "come on in, talk to us about it."

Sikorsky was still reviewing the latest proposed changes, said Paul Jackson, a company spokesman. Comments from bidders are due by Oct. 30, according to an Air Force announcement.

Wynne said the Air Force planned to deliver a final, formal request for proposals by mid-November and probably give bidders 60 days to respond.

Boeing said it had complied and cooperated with every Air Force revision and request in good faith "and we believe it's time our competitors did the same thing."

"We remain confident that the Boeing HH-47 remains the best choice and in the end will be selected by the Air Force again based on its superior capabilities and low risk," said Kerry Gildea, a company spokeswoman.

The rescue helicopter is the Air Force's No. 2 acquisition priority after a $40 billion plan to acquire an initial 179 new jet-refueling aircraft to phase out aging KC-135 tankers.

Wynne said he still hoped to award the tanker contract by January. Boeing is vying for the tanker work against a team made up of Northrop Grumman Corp and Airbus parent EADS.

"We right now are treating both competitors with extreme fairness," Wynne told lawmakers.

By Dan Beyers  |  October 25, 2007; 6:57 AM ET  | Category:  Lockheed
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