The USAF’s New Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH): Aiming for AffordabilityJan 10, 2013 13:30 UTC by Defense Industry Daily staff
In 2006 the US Air Force awarded Boeing a contract worth north of $10 billion for 141 HH-47 combat search-and-rescue helicopters, but by mid-2009 the CSAR-X program was cancelled during its System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase by the Pentagon. At the time Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote that this program had “a troubled acquisition history and raises the fundamental question of whether this important mission can only be accomplished by yet another single-service solution.”
That cancellation may have been warranted, but the underlying operational constraints are increasing as years go by, with a tentative replacement for aging helicopters that keeps slipping. In 2012, the Air Force got the green light to take another crack at it.
Aging HH-60G Pave Hawks
A solution to replace the USAF’s aging HH-60G Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopters becomes more pressing as SAR(Search And Rescue) and MEDEVAC(MEDical EVACuation) flight hours keep piling in. These helos are derived from early-model UH-60 Black Hawks, and were fielded starting in 1982 with an estimated operational life of 7,000 flight hours. Of the initial 112 airframes, the inventory was down to 99 as of late 2010. Only 93 of them were assessed as flyable as of March 2012, with signs of structural fatigue (i.e. cracks) on a majority of them. They are all expected to have reached the 7,000-hour milestone by 2019. In September 2011 two of them were already exceeding 10,000 flight hours.
The shortfall in the fleet has been addressed with an Operational Loss Replacement (OLR) program that funded 20 replacement H-60 family airframes over FY 2011-12. That’s just a short-term stopgap, as maintaining older helos becomes increasingly expensive and dangerous. Development funding for a new program was featured in the FY 2013 President Budget, but Congressional dithering since then makes that far from certain.
Savvy observers will recall that years ago, CSAR-X Initial Operational Capability (IOC) was scheduled for 2012, at 10 operational aircraft. To defend its lead on this all-service mission, the USAF is putting an emphasis on affordability. Even so, it will be several more years before meaningful replacements begin to arrive in the field.
CRH: Contracts & Key Events
That may not stop GAO protests, however, which doomed the USAF’s CSAR-X predecessor. Ominously, EADS North America Chief Executive Sean O’Keefe is quoted as saying that as written, CRH’s terms didn’t call for an evaluation of full life cycle costs. The Defense Department’s emphasis on affordability, and a new federal law which required such an evaluation, could be enough to sustain a protest.
Dec 12/12: Why 112? James Hasik wonders about the math behind 112 CRH hericopters. Why that number?
“I have watched at least two NATO air wars now in which the US Marine Corps seems to have had the hammer for CSAR. It’s important to note that the Marines don’t actually have specialized CSAR units or aircraft… What they do have is long-range rotorcraft and guys who train hard… In Bosnia in 1995, that was a CH-53 and some escorts from the Kearsarge, pulling out an USAF F-16 pilot. In Libya in 2011, it was an MV-22 from (coincidentally) the Kearsarge, pulling out an USAF F-15 crew.”
“…Without seeing the missions needs statement, it’s hard to know what led to the number 112, but the quantity is easy to criticize, and on the numbers… [set of assumptions made]… The point is that even under these unrealistically generous assumptions, the USAF would only want a fleet of 112 dedicated CSAR aircraft if it was figuring on losing lots of planes in a massive bloody war. The only plausible opponent that could give it that much trouble is China, and in that case, the H-60 hasn’t anywhere close to the range needed to recover the aircrews.”
He doesn’t think that math augurs well for budgetary survival.
Dec 11/12: Sikorsky alone. After studying the RFP’s structure and terms, most bidders decide that it’s impossible to win. Once minimum requirements are met, it’s a straight cost battle, with no credit for additional capacity or capabilities, and terms that will disqualify any bid over $6.84 billion. That’s a legitimate contracting approach, especially with the USAF’s top priorities leaving very little room for anything else. The KC-46A tankers are urgent, the F-35 program is set to spend huge amounts of money, and the vastness of the Pacific has made the next-generation bomber a priority. As contracting consultant Jim McAleese notes, everything else is going to be pushed to bare minimums to pay for them.
For CRH, this means that Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin are the lone team willing to bid. Their 2010 teaming agreement for the HH-60 Recap was issued long before the current RFP, and they won’t say which helicopter they’re bidding. All they could tell us is that: “Sikorsky intends to continue with its proposal to offer the Air Force a proven, affordable combat rescue helicopter system to perform the critical mission of saving warfighters’ lives.”
The HH-60M is certainly proven in this role, but the S-92 could also be touted as “proven” given its coast guard service, so the statement means nothing. As for the others:
- AgustaWestland and Northrop Grumman have decided not to bid the AW101/ “HH-71″.
- Boeing won’t bid the HH-47 that won the cancelled CSAR-X competition.
- Nor will the Boeing-Bell team bid the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor.
- Eurocopter has decided not to submit a bid, either, which presumably would have involved the special forces/ SAR variant of its EC725 Cougar, or a modified NH90 FAME with the MEDEVAC/SAR kit.
The question now is whether the USAF will simply barrel ahead with a late FY 2013 contract and say “these were our terms, whomever bids, bids” – or withdraw and revise the RFP. Reuters | Aviation Week | Defense News.
Oct 22/12: RFP. The Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition announces the posting of the Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH) RFP to the FBO.gov website, launching the acquisition program. All previous discussions are superseded by the RFP, and a contract isn’t expected until Q4 (summer) 2013.
The Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) contract will develop the system and produce 8 helicopters. It will be a Fixed-Price Incentive Firm (FPIF) contract, with options for 16 more Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) helicopters. The FPIF contract includes a mandatory 11% profit margin at target cost, with another 1% possible if schedule performance meets the criteria. If costs go over that target cost, they’ll be shared 50/50 with the government, reducing contractor profit margins, until 120% (and just 1% profit) is reached. At that point, all further costs belong to the contractor.
Full Rate Production (FRP) options will be Firm Fixed-Price (FFP), and the USAF expects to buy around 85. A small portion of the contract will be a combination of FFP and Cost Plus Fixed Fee (CPFF) in order to cover “over and above” repairs and studies and analyses.
Known competitors to date include Sikorsky/ Lockheed Martin (HH-92? HH-60M?), and AgustaWestland/ Northrop Grumman (AW101/ HH-71). Both helicopter types already perform search and rescue roles. Boeing is believed to be examining a bid involving the V-22 tilt-rotor, similar to AFSOC’s existing CV-22s. FBO.gov | USAF | AIN Online | Rotorhub.
FY 2011 – 2012
September 2012: Industry Day and 3rd draft. Details emerge as contractors seek clarification on terms and schedules. The “affordability gate” has been set at $6.848B, a number the Air Force does not seem keen to elaborate on. It is going to be a Best Value award with expected discussions past initial proposals, as the sums at stake lead the contracting officers to think an award without discussions would not be realistic. A 1% schedule incentive is built in, to be paid after (timely) delivery.
The draft Statement of Work shows how production of 112 helicopters is expected to be scheduled between EMD over FY 2013-16, followed by LRIP in FY 2017-18, and FRP in FY 2019-24. That would exactly replace the initial HH-60 fleet, but would be below the canceled 141 helicopter CSAR-X buy. CRH’s 2018 date for Initial Operational Capability would come 6 years later than CSAR-X had been aiming for.
One contractor made a salient comment that the Air Force just brushed aside in their answer by saying they won’t change their communications requirements:
“Spec requires basic comms capabilities — have quick SINCGARS, UHF-SATCOM, etc. However, HH-60G is acquiring new suite of multi-band radios that will also provide crypto modernization, full compliance with GATM (ED-23B) [DID: Global Air Traffic Management], and advanced waveforms such as SRW and MUOS. Won’t CRH be a step backwards from what will be fielded on HH-60G in FY14?
The government’s curt answer is disconcerting, given that CRH deliveries are expected several years after said HH-60G upgrades. GATM retrofits were also made on KC-135s an on C-5s among others, to meet new FAA standards and allow shared access within both civil and military airspace.
Finally, the USAF found that answers to an earlier round of classified questions were not mailed out back in July, leaving contractors hanging dry for the expected clarifications. This is to be corrected promptly.
The final RFP was originally scheduled earlier in 2012, and was postponed a couple of times. At the time of this writing its new release date is not known, though Wright-Patterson Public Affairs tells DID that it should be “very soon” as the 3rd draft should be the last iteration before a finalized RFP. As of July 2012, the date for the award was set to Q3 FY2013, but this now looks likely to slip by at least a quarter. Contractors will have 60 days to submit their proposals.
Sept 18/12: AW101. Northrop Grumman and Finmeccanica’s AgustaWestland announce they will partner to bid on CRH, as well as the future presidential helicopter. They will offer the 3-engined, AW101-derived “HH-71″ to compete for CRH.
Subsequent displays reveal a number of distinguishing features beyond the 3 engines, including a custom-designed medical suite, 7.62mm minigun turret mounted above the ramp, and rotor blades that push air away to reduce brownout during landings. Release | DoD Buzz.
March 21/12: Industry Day. interested contractors are briefed during an Industry Day whose information package is available on FBO (CCR validation required).
Feb 2012: In the FY2013 President Budget, the USAF starts ramping up RDT&E funding for the CRH with 2 test airframes in FY13.
Jan/Feb 2012: After conducting an Acquisition Strategy Panel, the USAF Acquisition Executive approved the acquisition strategy in January. On February 10 the Materiel Development Decision (MDD) was received from OSD/AT&L.
This clears the way for an RFP with an approach centered on seeking and existing production helicopter with modifications that use existing mature technologies or subsystems requiring limited integration. In this case a Technology Development phase is not necessary and the acquisition process can proceed to the System Development phase.
“What we have done over the last few years is we have put add-ons onto the [HH-60G] aircraft but it has not been integrated the way it should have been. So for us, getting that total integration of our mission systems and our rescue systems all in one package would be ideal… Given the aircraft we have lost over the last nine years, our first job is to get back to 112. We are doing that by buying UH-60Ms right off the line and outfitting them with our rescue equipment.”
August 2011: the Air Force issues a Sources Sought solicitation for a HH-60 Recap Program. This later morphed into the CRH, as per entries above.
May 26/11: Defense Tech reports on the HH-60 Recap program. Meanwhile:
“The service has initiated a band aid program to replace the 13 lost [HH-60] aircraft in the next couple of years with UH-60M airframes purchased from the Army. Still, this does little to address the fact that the vast majority of the CSAR fleet is aging and overused, with dozens of airframes developing stress cracks.”
April 27/11: AW101. AgustaWestland announces that they’ll offer the AW101-derived “HH-71″ for the HH-60 RECAP program, and the AW139M for the USAF’s CVLSP utility helicopter competition. Vertical.
“Boeing has submitted data on the CH-47 and V-22 to the US Air Force as potential replacements for the HH-60G Pave Hawk fleet of combat search and rescue helicopters (CSAR), a spokesman says… the UH-60M [is] a helicopter less than half the size of the heavylift CH-47 and barely one-third the maximum takeoff weight of the V-22 tiltrotor.
The same variance in size, roughly put, also applies to the aircraft proposed by EADS, which are the NH-90 and EC-725 Super Cougar. EADS submitted data on both aircraft because they believe they “offer proven capabilities at best value and lowest cost to the taxpayer,” says EADS NA chief operating officer Dave Oliver.”
July 15/10: HH-60? Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin announce that they’ll compete together for the HH-60 Recap program, using a modified H-60M Black Hawk. The HH-60M is already in service as a US Army MEDEVAC platform. Sikorsky.
- DID – CSAR-X Canceled for Convenience
- DII – Sikorsky’s $7.4-11.6B “Multi-Year VII” H-60 Helicopter Contract
- USAF – HH-60G Pave Hawk
- M2VA (June 2012) – Search And Rescue