CSAR-X… “Canceled for Convenience”
The $10-15 billion CSAR-X competition aimed at replacing the USAF’s HH-60G Pave Hawk combat search-and-rescue helicopters has seen many twists and turns. From profiles of the original options, to transfers of program responsibility between AFSOC and the USAF and the withdrawal of the PRV-22 Osprey from competition, to Sikorsky’s decision to offer the H-92 Superhawk, to Boeing HH-47 Chinook’s contract win in November 2006, the CSAR-X/PRV program has been eventful indeed.
February 26, 2007 added one more big event: the US Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan agency of Congress, upheld Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin’s protests over Boeing’s win. Would the GAO ruling be interpreted narrowly, triggering a double-checking exercise, or more broadly, triggering a renewed evaluation process? Worse, could the GAO’s follow-up defining the award’s problem areas create so many issues that further protests from whomever loses bring the program to a halt? The USAF released its RFP v2.0, but Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin filed renewed protests even before the new RFP’s due date. The USAF kept trying to push forward with an accelerated process, but barriers have mounted as it has lost – repeatedly. Meanwhile, the Pave Hawks aren’t getting any younger, or more capable.
DID looks at the 3 competing helicopters’ key advantages and disadvantages, and chronicles the events surrounding the GAO protest and subsequent developments. After their second loss before the GAO, the USAF has now decided to re-compete the contract – in full, with RFP Amendment 5. Which came out at about the same time as a report alleging that CSAR-X’s criteria were changed to allow Boeing’s HH-47 to compete. Meanwhile, almost $100 million is required to update the old HH-60 helicopters, as a result of all the delays.
The latest item is formal cancellation of the CSAR-X contract, per SecDef Gates’ FY 2010 budget recommendations:
The GAO’s February 2007 Decision
“By decision of today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) sustained the bid protests of Sikorsky Aircraft Company and Lockheed Martin Systems Integration-Oswego (LMSI) against the Department of the Air Force’s award of a contract to The Boeing Company, under request for proposals No. FA8629-06-R-2350, for the Combat Search and Rescue Replacement Vehicle (CSAR-X).
The solicitation provided that for purposes of the source selection, cost/price would be calculated on the basis of the Most Probable Life Cycle Cost (MPLCC), including both contract and operations and support costs. GAO sustained the protest on the basis that the Air Force’s actual evaluation of MPLCC was inconsistent with the required approach as set forth in the solicitation.
GAO recommended that the Air Force amend the solicitation to reflect its intent with respect to the evaluation of MPLCC, reopen discussions with offerors, and then request revised proposals. GAO further recommended that if the evaluation of revised proposals results in a determination that Boeing’s proposal no longer represents the best value to the government, the agency should terminate its contract. GAO also recommended that Sikorsky and LMSI be reimbursed the costs of filing and pursuing their protests, including reasonable attorneys’ fees.”
A decision that kicked off all of the events to follow.
The USAF’s Choices, and its Quandary
In truth, each helicopter has strengths and weaknesses:
- Boeing’s H-47 Chinook is in demand in Afghanistan because its extra power gives it the muscle to fly with a useful cargo load in “hot and high” conditions that can cripple smaller helicopters. Its twin-rotor design also allows for more precise positioning, and gives it some close-in hovering maneuvers that other helicopters will find hard to duplicate. Compatibility with the US and global helicopter fleets is excellent, and the CH-47’s service as the MH-47G Special Ops variant gives Boeing an edge with respect to early delivery and minimal R&D costs. On the negative side, it’s a larger and noisier target, with more rotor downwash, the worst fuel economy, higher maintenance requirements, slower assembly after being flown over in a C-17 or C-5, and dimensions that make stowage and maintenance within Navy ships difficult to impossible.
- Lockheed Martin’s US101 is based on the European EH101. The EH101 is the only platform in the competition offering 3 engines, which ensures power to spare even if one is shot out. Compatibility with NATO allies is good, it boasts long range if an extra tank used, and it can be based aboard Navy ships to expand deployment options. On the negative side, it carries that extra fuel tank in its belly – not ideal for a helicopter that will be shot at a lot. The design also has other issues. Some operators (vid. Canada) have experienced mechanical problems and/or maintenance cost issues with their EH101 fleets, the British EH101 Mk3s continue to suffer from low readiness, and the US101-based VH-71 Presidential helicopter staggered through a poor initial program rating and ballooning costs, into outright cancellation.
- Sikorsky’s H-92 Superhawk offers a lot of compatibility with the H-60 helicopter family, which comprises the majority of US military helicopters on land and sea – including the HH-60 Pave Hawks CSAR-X aims to replace. It can easily be based aboard ship, and claims both excellent operating costs and extensive survivability features. On the negative side, its 2 engines raise questions re: whether it’s comparatively underpowered for the role, especially if one engine is shot out while the helicopter is operating in the hot, high-altitude conditions often found in the current war. It’s also the smallest of the 3 entries, which is both a potential plus and a minus.
Other choices, such as the CH-53K, might exist if delivery could take place in a few years. Given this roster of contenders, however, it’s really a question of which disadvantages the USAF finds easiest to live with in a combat search-and-rescue role.
If the government’s word is indeed final.
Industry consolidation over the last few decades has given the government less power over individual contractors. The buyer’s decision isn’t always final any more, and contractors are in a better position to use options like protests in order to dispute selection processes or even selection criteria. The USAF still sees CSAR-X as an urgent priority – but many observers, including DID, questioned their ability to make it one in this environment.
Those doubts turned out the justified.
The CSAR-X Controversy: Updates & Subsequent Events
August 2011: the Air Force issues a Sources Sought solicitation for a HH-60 Recap Program.
This later morphed into the Combat Rescue Helicopter competition. Further coverage will be located at that article.
June 2/09: The Pentagon’s DefenseLINK:
“The Air Force is terminating for convenience the System Development and Demonstration Contract for the HH-47 Combat Search and Rescue Recovery Vehicle Program with the Boeing Co., of Ridley Park, Pennsylvania for $712,156,535. This contract termination is a result of the CSAR-X program cancellation directed by the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (FA8629-07-C-2350).”
April 6/09: After clearing the move with President Obama, US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates takes the unusual step of making his FY 2010 budget recommendations public, in advance of their formal submission to the President. He recommends termination of the CSAR-X contract, and its possible move away from the USAF – a blow that would strike at the USAF’s own belief in its moral duty to its airmen:
“This program has a troubled acquisition history and raises the fundamental question of whether this important mission can only be accomplished by yet another single-service solution… We will take a fresh look at the requirement behind this program and develop a more sustainable approach.”
March 23/09: Sikorsky announces that it had furnished replacement studs and tools to all S-92 operators, and that 50 of 91 aircraft had been reworked already.
March 20/09: Canada’s Transportation Safety Board identifies a broken titanium stud as part of the downed S-92 helicopter’s gearbox oil filter assembly. Sikorsky had previously recommended be replaced with a steel stud within one year or 1,250 flight hours. CBC News.
March 11/09: An S-92 operated by Cougar Helicopters goes down in the sea with 18 people aboard, while ferrying workers to one of the offshore oil rigs off of Newfoundland, Canada. In the end, only 1 of the 18 passengers survived. Standard procedures give all passengers immersion suits, but winds were running between 25-35 knots, with a 3m/ 9-10 foot swell, and water temperatures near freezing. The Globe and Mail | See also CBC and Flight International report & photos. re: later Canadian TSB findings.
Jan 29/09: Aviation Week in “Pentagon Wanted Sole-source Search, Rescue“:
“A Defense Department study guidance and the supporting e-mail trail show that the department was pushing for sole-source procurement for the mixed CSAR-X replacement fleet as late as the fall of 2005 and well into 2006 — even though Air Force CSAR-X requirements ruled out MH-60s, and concerns over costs, downwash and sufficient weaponry dropped the CV-22 out of the running. This meant only one aircraft in the analysis would likely meet the Air Force requirements — the MH-47 Chinook.”
Jan 13/09: Aviation Week’s “U.S. Air Force Battles To Keep CSAR Mission” reports that the USAF has been pushed back so far on CSAR-X that it is re-fighting the battle to have the program at all, or to own CSAR capabilities.
Part of the USAF’s response is the same moral imperative other services have about leaving no-one behind. The service estimates 2,800 lives saved by its CSAR forces on the front lines since 2001, most of which were not USAF personnel.
In terms of why it should retain overall CSAR responsibility, the service argues that the distances and conditions under which it must operate don’t always fit the “off the shelf” resources available to other services, such as normal combat helicopters. A dedicated USAF fleet avoids having to over-design general purpose equipment for potential use recovering downed USAF pilots, with all of the cost penalties that would create. Instead, the USAF argues, a smaller fleet of dedicated aircraft and helicopters can be designed for its needs to include key capabilities like air-to-air refueling, advanced sensors, etc., and perform the combat search-and-rescue mission for all branches of the US military.
Dec 23/08: Aviation Week reports that availability of Canada’s CH-149 Cormorant (EH101) fleet is improving, but has yet to reach the expected 75% availability standard. A 2008 report had placed the helicopters’ availability at around 50%, and concluded that minimum operational requirements could only be met by buying more aircraft, or reducing maintenance inspections.
An operational availability improvement program involving faster spares supply; faster return of repaired, of repaired and overhauled items; lengthened inspection intervals; and other measures has begun. Even so, Canada’s DND is reportedly waiting before it concludes that the program is a success. A recent report noted that 9/14 helicopters (64%) were available, but that number continues to fluctuate.
Dec 16/08: The Project On Government Oversight claims that the US Department of Defense Inspector General’s report upholds USAF procurement criteria choices for CSAR-X:
“Specifically, POGO raised concerns that the Air Force Special Operations Command watered down the deployability requirement, even though a key performance parameter of the helicopter is the amount of time it can be deployed and ready to go in theater. We worried that the change in requirements may have resulted in the Air Force procuring the wrong helicopter for the mission.
The Department of Defense Inspector General found that this requirement was not changed improperly, and that the changes would not “adversely affect special operations capabilities in the Global War on Terror.” Neither the report nor the results have been made publicly available – but we have the results in brief.”
Copies of DoD IG Report #D-2009-027 (Project No. D2008-D000AB-0133.000) must be obtained through Freedom of Information requests. Meanwhile, POGO’s abridged results can be found via this POGO link [PDF].
Oct 23/08: USAF assistant secretary for acquisition Sue Payton directs CSAR-X program staff to issue a minor amendment to the RFP. The offererors have been notified, and the amendment aims to clarify how USAF officials will make the source selection decision. The USAF release adds that:
“This amendment and resulting minor delay to the award of contract is not associated with the DOD inspector general’s ongoing audit of the CSAR-X requirements development process. Air Force officials expect a final report will be released from the DOD IG later this year.”
April 22/08: USAF officials release Amendment 6 to the CSAR-X RFP, on the grounds that new information and schedules in vendors’ January 7/08 Amendment 5 proposals will require more time for review. According to the USAF release:
“Amendment 6 extends the planned contract award date and updates development timelines, schedules and realign funding. The exact award date has not been established… This amendment also incorporates the latest changes to specialty metals legislation, adjusts the award fee plan to increase the objective measurable criteria in accordance with the latest OSD guidance, and shifts the date for the Initial Operational Capability. Despite the shift, the Air Force’s sense of urgency in delivering this capability to the warfighter remains the same.”
March 26/08: USAF officials had hoped to declare an RFP winner by summer 2008, but Aviation Week reports that the service will be release a v6 RFP in the spring, and making a selection around October. The USAF said it needed more time to evaluate the very detailed proposals, and a Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) meeting on the program is likely to take place a month or so before the selection is made.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s Inspector General investigation, and political fallout from EADS Airbus’ win of the KC-45 aerial tanker program, remain wild cards in play.
Feb 22/08: The Pentagon’s Inspector General will begin an audit in March 2008, to examine whether changes to “key performance parameters” for the helicopter were properly disclosed and vetted through the Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council. See Nov 15-16/07 items for more background. POGO report.
Feb 13/08: Lockheed Martin and AgustaWestland decide to improve their odds by completing their aerial refueling tests before the CSAR-X contract decision is made. This will pull them more even with the HH-47 Chinook, which already has significant experience via the MH-47G special forces model.
A British RAF Merlin Mk3 helicopter became the first British rotorcraft to demonstrate air-to-air refueling capability, plugging into the wing drogue pods of an Italian Air Force KC-130J tanker at 4,000 feet altitude, with both aircraft traveling at 127 knots. All trial objectives were completed with multiple in-flight refueling events successfully achieved up to the maximum Merlin Mk3 flying weight of 34,400 lbs. Both Britain and Italy stand to gain EH101-related contracts if the “HH-71” wins. AgustaWestland release.
Jan 28/08: The British Conservative Party issues a release and subsequent media background that give information re: the percentage of various fleet helicopter that are not in depth maintenance, and deemed “fit for service” (US nomenclature = mission capable, able to carry out their planned missions on a given date). The information does not appear positive for the EH101:
- EH101 Merlin Mk1 (naval): 44%
- EH101 Merlin Mk3 (trans): 53%
- Lynx Mk7/9 (Army): 58%
- CH-47 Chinook Mk3: 65%
- AS330 Puma Mk1: 67%
Jan 7/08: Boeing announces that it has re-submitted its HH-47 for the v2.0 CSAR-X RFP. Boeing makes a number of specific claims in its release, which seems to be a growing trend for them:
“With the largest cabin size, highest operating altitude, lowest downwash velocity and most lift capacity of all competitors, the HH-47 provides CSAR crews with enhanced flexibility for demanding missions… With an unrefueled range of more than 775 nautical miles, the HH-47 also is the only entry with U.S.-certified aerial refueling and terrain-following/terrain-avoidance radar, further extending the HH-47’s operational reach. Medical treatment, one of the most critical components of the CSAR mission, is maximized with the HH-47’s environmentally controlled patient treatment area, real-time patient monitoring system and the ability to carry more survivors and treat more patients than any other entry.”
Nov 16/07: Aviation Week alleges that at least one of the CSAR-X competitors (“almost certainly Boeing”) asked for the key performance parameter (KPP) requirement change from “mission ready” within 3 hours of being transported into theater to the more lenient category of “flight ready”; Boeing’s HH-47 subsequently passed that requirement by a narrow margin. Boeing company spokesperson Jenna McMullin denied this in a Nov 15/07 statement:
“To be clear, Boeing had absolutely no input toward the KPP changes… We agree that deployability is integral to saving lives, and the HH-47 will meet both mission and flight-ready requirements as a reliable, combat-proven platform.”
Nov 15/07: Air Force officials release Amendment 5 to CSAR-X RFP, after a series of face-to-face meetings with all CSAR-X offerors. The 3 bidders now have 53 days to respond to RFP Amendment 5, and they may to update any portion of their proposals. However: “The performance-based requirements have not changed…”
The USAF release adds that Army and Navy specialists are being added to the team “in order to leverage their unique rotorcraft expertise,” and a representative from the Office of the Secretary of Defense has also has been added to the team “to provide additional management experience.”
Nov 15/07: The non-governmental Project On Government Oversight (POGO) releases a report concerning the CSAR-X acquisition process. “Rescue at Risk: Crucial Helicopter Requirement Weakened” appears to confuse strategic (getting the elements of a full operation in place, weeks/days) and tactical (this helicopter, hours/minutes) deployment speeds when discussing the importance of this performance parameter – and they are not the same thing. Nonetheless, it does offer a very complete chronology of the events involved.
POGO claims that in April 2005, USAF Special Operations command (AFSOC) requested a meeting with Boeing at the behest of the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s (OSD) acquisition office. Special Operations Command’s (US SOCOM, the umbrella command for US special forces) MH-47G was discussed, and Boeing told AFSOC that the Chinook could not be put back together in time to meet the 3-hour “mission ready” criterion after being airlifted to the mission site. According to POGO, Army Special Operations Command is quite fond of its MH-47Gs, which are currently used in CSAR missions, and AFSOC subsequently lobbied to have the requirements changed to allow a similar Chinook variant to compete. A full JROC (Joint Requirements Oversight Council) revision to the Key Performance Parameters (KPP) would have delayed the program by months, but it was possible to change “mission ready” to “flight ready” as an “administrative” rather than a “substantive” or “critical” change, without going through that process. POGO disputes this characterization of the change, and also alleges that proper testing procedures would have disqualified Boeing’s HH-47 even with the revised parameter. Still…
“POGO would like to emphasize that none of these findings allege corruption or illegal action on the part of Air Force officials or the CSAR-X competitors. POGO’s findings primarily point to failures in the acquisition process itself and possible violations of defense doctrine.”
The organization recommends a DoD Inspector General investigation of the process that changed the KPP, and asks that the US DoD’s Operational Test and Evaluation Directorate (DOT&E) be brought in as a 3rd party evaluator and tester.
Nov 13/07: Gannett’s Air Force Times reports that the 2008 defense appropriations bill passed by Congress provides $99 million to keep the aging HH-60 Pave Hawk CSAR helicopter fleet operational until CSAR-X arrives. The report said that the HH-60 fleet will have to perform the search-and-rescue mission for “many years” longer than planned; Inside Defense suggests that even CSAR-X’s Initial Operational Capability may not take place until Q3 2014 now.
Oct 24/07: U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne, speaking at a House Armed Services Committee hearing, said the final amendment to the CSAR-X request for proposals will be released in mid-November 2007; a draft was release on Oct 23/07. The 3 finalist bidders (Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky Aircraft) will then be given 60 days to submit their proposals. The Air Force will then will take 30 days to make a selection, placing the v3.0 winner announcement in mid-February. Defense News.
Oct 14/07: The UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency announces that the first of 4 brand-new Sikorsky S-92 helicopters (a civilian version of the H-92), configured entirely for search and rescue (SAR), completed its maiden mission today for Stornoway Coastguard. The new helicopter is being operated on behalf of the Agency by CHC Scotia, who won an interim contract that provides for commercial search and rescue helicopter services from 4 civilian-operated bases – Sumburgh, Stornoway, Lee-on-Solent and Portland – for a five-year period from July 1/07 – July 1/12. The service provides a 24 hour coverage at Stornoway, where the S-92 is based.
This kind of deployment is critical for the H-92’s ability to prove low risk for its platform, as it lacks the other contenders’ operational experience. CHC Scotia’s helicopters are fitted with 2 internal auxiliary fuel tanks of 210 gallons each, improved AFCS with auto-hover capability, Forward looking infra red (FLIR), dual rescue hoist, bubble window, cargo hook, search-light and loud hailer. The cabin can be arranged for installing triple medical litter kits, 1-2 extra fuel tanks, folding utility seats, and/or storage. The designated operator console provides search data including FLIR. UK MCA release.
Sept 26/07: The U.S. Air Force confirms that it will re-bid CSAR-X. The bid will be restricted to the existing 3 competitors, but allows them to include updates on pricing, cost and other program-related information in new proposal. The Air Force decision means the three competitors can essentially re-do their bids, in response to a new RFP.
Reports say that the common understanding among senior USAF officials is that information gathering for the issuance of a new RFP will be completed by year’s end, but a new award will not take place until late summer or fall of 2008. This will create further pressure for fast fielding, and may help Boeing keep the contract, but other changes seem to improve Sikorsky’s odds. Time will tell.
Sept 19/07: ABC News reports that in Spring 2005, AFSOCOM officials changed a key performance parameter for CSAR-X, but labeled it as an administrative change rather than a fundamental change, in order to avoid a Joint Requirements Oversight committee process that would have delayed the project by 6 months or more. Initial requirements called for reassembly within three hours to make the helicopter mission capable. The KPP change altered that to “flight ready.”
The Boeing H-47 variant, an aircraft with which AFSOCOM officials were well acquainted due to their experience with the MH-47G, just made that changed requirement. “USAF Made KPP Change To Keep CSAR-X On Schedule.”
“We recommend that the Air Force permit offerors to revise both the cost/price and non-cost/price aspects of their proposals… Accordingly, we recommend that the Air Force permit offerors to revise both the cost/price and non-cost/price aspects of their proposals in response to the new evaluation scheme. We recognize that this represents a significant change in the Air Force’s intended conduct of this procurement … and that the result could delay the acquisition. Nonetheless, in view of the fact that the record shows that the Air Force’s change to its evaluation methodology could have affected the manner in which offerors prepared their proposals well beyond the O&S [operations and support] cost calculation, offerors should have the opportunity to revise their proposals in response. If the evaluation of revised proposals results in a determination that Boeing’s proposal no longer represents the best value to the government, the agency should terminate its contract. We also recommend that LMSI and Sikorsky be reimbursed the costs of filing and pursuing their protests, including reasonable attorneys’ fees. 4 C.F.R. sect. 21.8(d)(1). In accordance with 4 C.F.R. sect. 21.8(f)(1), the protesters’ certified claims for such costs, detailing the time expended and costs incurred, must be submitted directly to the agency within 60 days after receipt of this decision.”
Late Aug: The September 2007 issue of the USAF’s Air Force Magazine runs “The Struggle Over CSAR-X,” outlining the program, the issues over the first round of protests, and the USAF’s approach and position.
Aug 16/07: The Project On Government Oversight excerpts elements of Sikorsky’s July 2/07 protest. One item was Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne’s March 3/07 email to Lt. General John L. “Jack” Hudson saying that “I would like to stay with our selection” of Boeing’s HH-47 Chinook helicopter for the combat search and rescue helicopter replacement (CSAR-X).
More context is required to really understand this snippet. Assuming that Sikorsky hasn’t deleted a disclaimer in its quote (for instance, “I would like to stay with our selection, but if a revised process prompts a rethink then so be it.”), one can interpret this two ways. One interpretation is that the re-submission process was a sham designed to ensure this course of action, and basically wasted everybody’s time; the USAF’s changes in response to the GAO ruling were certainly very narrow. Another possible interpretation is that Wynne is expressing a belief that the selection process picked the right helicopter overall, regardless of the RFP’s criteria, given the real priorities at hand. A footnote in the Sikorsky protest speaks to this possibility, though it is not meant as a direct response to that email item:
“…the inherent inconsistency reflected in the record in this respect suggests that the Air Force’s actual needs are unsettled and that the evaluation methodology does not square with what those needs actually may be. The appropriate course of action under such circumstances would be for the Air Force to withdraw Amendment 4, make a final assessment of what its needs actually are, develop evaluation criteria that are designed to assess offers against those needs, and issue an “Amendment 5,” or a new consolidated RFP, that reflects a harmonious communion of needs and evaluation factors.”
Then again, assume the USAF spent time doing that, and compiled an RFP whose weighting’s left Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin’s offerings disadvantaged, because it was very explicit about giving features like cost of operation a low priority and giving heavy weighting to benefits like fast delivery. How would that be materially different from the current situation, and wouldn’t the content of the revision just spark another protest?
June 19/07: The U.S. Air Force said it wants the Government Accountability Office to act quickly on new protests filed. The GAO has offered to process the protests quickly, using mediation procedures if requested, and the Air Force has now said it would seek the speedy procedures. It has not changed its stance, however, and has no plans to change its program timeline in the meantime – including new cost data due this day, and the goal of picking a final winner in the Fall of 2007.
The Dow Jones report adds that barriers to that early decision may be mounting, and adds:
July 2/07: Sikorsky submits its 2nd bid protest, aka. the “first supplemental protest.” A copy can be found via the Project On Government Oversight [PDF].
June 11/07: Even before the new RFP’s due date, Lockheed Martin submits its own protest, and the GAO confirms this via email. An Avitation Week report quotes Lockheed spokesman Greg Caires:
“Lockheed Martin has submitted a pre-award protest because we believe the Air Force’s amended CSAR-X RFP does not comply with the corrective action recommended by the GAO earlier this year. We understand the urgent need for new CSAR aircraft and believe that a broader re-evaluation of bids, consistent with the GAO’s recommendation, will result in an outcome that would better serve our nation’s warfighters.”
Aviation Week received USAF responses to the competitors. Will Operations and Support (O&S) items be re-evaluated? No, the amendment simply clarifies how they were calculated. Can the offeror adjust other factors, such as spares, support/test equipment, facilities, etc.? No. Will the USAF make any such adjustments? No. This means factors like differences in the cost to hangar the respective aircraft, tear down and build up those aircraft for transport, and ferry them for missions will not be considered.
Sikorsky claims that a Pentagon directive to consider fuel costs, including “hidden” infrastructure costs for transport and carrying fuel, is also ignored by the USAF’s revised RFP. They have publicly said that they are “extremely disappointed,” and refer to these changes as “unresponsive”; they have released a 5-page letter sharply criticizing the USAF decision, dated May 21 and signed by Sikorsky’s director of government contracts, Ariel David [q.v. Reuters report]. Both Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky complain that the response is not in the spirit of the ruling, even as USAF Chief of Staff Moseley reportedly said that the USAF would not look kindly on on legal challenges, which could substantially delay the program.
Legal challenges may prove the least of Moseley’s worries. Sikorsky’s Connecticut includes Sen. Liberman [D-CT] who holds the balance of power in the Senate. Lockheed Martin’s CSAR-X facility is in Sen. Hilary Clinton’s state [D-NY]. Meanwhile, fellow Presidential candidate Sen. McCain [R-AZ] has submitted questions to the USAF regarding its CSAR-X bid process. Sikorsky has not ruled out lawsuits, but a company looking at all of its options may have a few here:
“Rest assured, Sikorsky will vigorously oppose any effort by the Air Force to repeat its mistakes, make new ones, or otherwise bypass the mandate for full and open competition.”
May 14/07: Washington think-tank The Lexington Institute echoes some of the points made by Sen. Clinton [D-NY – Lockheed Martin’s Owego facility is in her state] re: the suitability of the winning bid:
“The good news is that there was no conspiracy — as the Government Accountability Office has ruled, the source selection process was consistent with prevailing acquisition practices except for one relatively minor failing that will be corrected in the revised solicitation out this week. Now for the bad news: just about every pilot in the Air Force from the chief of staff on down thinks their acquisition officials picked the wrong helicopter in the initial selection. Here are a few items that got overlooked:”
May 14/07: USAF officials announce the release of a draft amendment to the CSAR-X RFP. The final amendment is expected in early June 2007, with revised proposals expected “later this summer.”
“The amended RFP will clarify the Air Force’s evaluation of operations and support costs and will also provide the original offerors an opportunity to quantify and substantiate potential manpower efficiencies based on the reliability and maintainability characteristics of their proposed aircraft. Air Force subject matter experts from many career fields will then evaluate the offerors’ proposed efficiencies. Air Force officials will then conduct a best-value assessment in accordance with the instructions outlined in the amended RFP.”
April 25/07: Air Force officials announced their revised approach to the CSAR-X contract.
“…the Air Force expects to release a draft Request for Proposal amendment to the CSAR-X offerors in May, and will conduct meetings with the offerors to address comments and answer questions prior to the release of the official RFP amendment. “We believe the RFP amendment will meet both the letter and spirit of the GAO [Government Accountability Office] recommendation,” said Sue C. Payton, Service Acquisition Executive… The amendment will clarify the Air Force’s evaluation of Operation and Support costs and also give the offerors an opportunity to quantify and substantiate potential manpower efficiencies based on the reliability and maintainability characteristics of their proposed aircraft. Once the Air Force receives revised proposals from the offerors, Air Force officials will review and evaluate the offerors’ proposed O&S efficiencies, and will conduct a new best value assessment based on an integration of the new O&S information along with the results of the original evaluation in the areas where the GAO found no problems.”
Translation: we’ll look at changing the contenders’ scores for the operations and support component of our weighting, but unless that’s enough to tip the balance and change the result, the award will still go to Boeing.
March 30/07: The GAO has issued their clarifications, effectively limiting grounds for reconsideration to the USAF’s evaluation of operations and support costs. A statement from the US Air Force:
“The Government Accounting Office informed Air Force officials March 30 that all other protest issues surrounding the CSAR-X contract award have been denied. In a March 29 decision, the GAO denied all of the additional arguments raised by Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin Systems Integration, “finding that none furnished an additional basis for sustaining the protests.”
…The Air Force will update the request for proposal with respect to the evaluation of operations and support costs, reopen discussions with offerors, and request revised proposals. If the evaluation of the revised proposals results in a change to the CSAR-X best value source selection, the Air Force will make any necessary changes in the contract award decision.”
In other words, a re-solicitation on narrow grounds, not a re-competition on broad grounds.
March 27/07: The Lexington Institute pens an analysts’ briefing entitled: “Saving CSAR: Combat Search-and-Rescue At Risk.” The gist?
“…the Air Force asked GAO to identify all of the places where flaws may have occurred in the selection process, and those findings will form the basis for a re-solicitation… GAO may identify so many problems that the remedy ends up being a full re-compete between the three teams. Second, data released by GAO from the first round suggests the rival helicopters all bring unique virtues (and limitations) to the table that may produce the kind of close outcome in the second round likely to provoke further protests. Third, if Boeing does not prevail in the second round it could argue that its competitors were given unfair advantages by what they learned about their losses in the first round… the Air Force will be hard-pressed to bring the selection of a new search-and-rescue helicopter to closure.”
March 22/07: Statement from the US Air Force “Air Force Responds to GAO CSAR-X Decision“:
“The Air Force intends to issue an amendment to the Request for Proposal to clarify its intent with respect to the evaluation of Operations and Support (O&S) costs. The Air Force will issue an amendment after the GAO clarifies any remaining issues. The Air Force will ensure that all offerors are made aware of how Air Force manpower standards are applied and how the Air Force will assess CSAR-X manpower-associated O&S costs.
The Air Force has requested that GAO clarify whether any of the other issues contested during the protest, but not addressed in the GAO decision, are sustained or denied. The Air Force believes such information is important for purposes of complying with the GAO decision in a way that is transparent and fair to all offerors.
…Air Force officials said they understand that the GAO intends to issue its decision by June 15. The Air Force will consider and respond appropriately to the GAO’s decision. If the evaluation of the revised proposals results in a change to the CSAR-X Best Value Source Selection decision, the Air Force will make any necessary changes in contract award.”
March 20/07: Sen. Clinton’s [D-NY] office
“Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton today questioned Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley about the Air Force’s approach to the contract award for a new Combat Search and Rescue Helicopter, the CSAR-X program. In a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which Senator Clinton is a member, the Senator noted that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently ruled in favor of a bid protest regarding the Air Force’s new Combat Search and Rescue Aircraft, the CSAR-X and then expressed her concerns about some of the public statements that the Air Force made in the aftermath of the decision. Lockheed Martin Owego was one of the bidders for the CSAR-X contract and now that the bidding has been reopened, Senator Clinton is working to make sure that the bidding process is fair and transparent. In response to her questioning, Secretary Wynne indicated that the Air Force would indeed take a broader approach to the evaluation of the proposals.”
“…Senator Clinton: I understand very well how important this is to all of us but I believe that certain key performance parameters related to the terminal area were not listed as special interest items by the source selection team and I think that it might be appropriate, at least, to reconsider whether that would be something to include going forward… obviously we want to get it right, and I’m worried about the weight and the maneuverability and some of the issues that have now been pushed into the public arena because we do have to get it right.”
Read the entire release page from Sen. Clinton’s office, which includes a prepared statement by Sen. Clinton, transcripts of Sec. Wynne and Sen. Clinton’s exchanges excerpted for the Q&A (full transcripts not available on committee site), and even a YouTube video.
March 15/07: Pentagon’s Undersecretary Of Defense For Acquisition, Technology And Logistics Kenneth Krieg holds a press conference and discusses CSAR-X in response to questions. One of the key points he makes is the importance of speedy acquisition, a point that will later come under question by Sen. Clinton who notes that its overriding importance was not clear in the RFP.
Feb 26/07: Excerpt from Sikorsky’s release:
“We are pleased that the GAO has sustained Sikorsky’s protest and are reviewing the GAO’s decision to determine the appropriate course of action… We sought to ensure the selection process accurately evaluated the characteristics and performance of our HH-92(TM) SUPERHAWK… only helicopter in its size class certified to the latest U.S., Canadian and European safety standards…
This aircraft offers the lowest lifecycle costs of any medium lift helicopter. It is engineered to reduce routine maintenance requirements by 80 percent and operating costs by 40 percent when compared with past-generation helicopters…”
Boeing statement excerpt (via Rotorhub):
“We will take some time to review this decision to decide what our next steps will be regarding this contract. We still believe the HH-47 is the most capable platform… and provides the best value…”
“Our ability to return isolated personnel to safety is a moral and ethical imperative, so we’ve made procurement of this new CSAR aircraft one of our highest weapon system procurement priorities. American and coalition war fighters can rest assured we will come to get them, no matter where they are. Today’s battlefields are non-linear and non-contiguous, changing shape and venue with speed that outpaces and out-reaches legacy aircraft. The Air Force must have a more capable next-generation CSAR aircraft to better support US and coalition personnel isolated from friendly forces by distance, threat, weather and enemy action. We are committed to leaving no one behind – a commitment that gives all members of the joint and coalition team the confidence to perform vital work in hostile and uncertain circumstances.
We plan to acquire 141 CSAR-X helicopters to replace our aging inventory of HH-60G PAVE HAWK helicopters, and we expect to achieve Initial Operational Capability by the end of 2012 with the most capable CSAR aircraft ever. Range and payload remain the soul of an air force, and the HH-47 exceeds our requirements in both areas. It will be capable of flying faster over longer ranges and higher altitudes, day or night, during adverse weather conditions, while carrying more personnel and specialized equipment than our legacy platform. Its increased payload capability provides a dramatic improvement in the number of injured personnel that can be rescued per sortie. Additionally, the HH-47 will be net-ready and outfitted with advanced avionics giving crews vastly better battlespace awareness than ever before. HH-47 crews will employ the best force protection capabilities ever offered, including a suite of integrated defensive systems and onboard weapons that give them greater firepower, lethality, and standoff range than legacy systems.”