US CSAR Competition: And Boeing Makes 3…
Back on June 13, 2005, while covering the “US101” EH-101 variant’s approval as the next US Presidential helicopter, DID noted that the rivals for this bid (Lockheed’s “US101” and Sikorsky’s H-92 Superhawk) would likely be squaring off again for an $11-12 billion contract to provide the USA’s next generation Combat Search And Rescue helicopter. Lockheed is firm on its European EH101 platform, while Sikorsky would eventually announce the HH-92 Superhawk as its contender in February 2006.
In September of 2005, Boeing entered the fray, on two fronts. Its choices left its rivals in a difficult competitive position, and even though one of those options was withdrawn before the end of the contest, Boeing’s HH-47 would eventually win it all and fly off with a contract estimated at $10 billion for 145 aircraft. The post below chronicles the CSAR-X competition, which had at least as many complications and happenings as the missions Boeing’s aircraft will execute.
The HH-60 Black Hawk variant currently performs many missions. It is designed to conduct day or night operations into hostile environments and especially to recover downed air crews or other isolated personnel during war. The HH-60G also participates in military operations other than war, such as civil search and rescue, emergency aeromedical evacuation (MEDEVAC), disaster relief, international aid, counterdrug activities and NASA space shuttle support.
Now an aging helicopter fleet, combined with increased threat capabilities, is creating pressure for new machines. When it first deployed in 1982, the Pave Hawk’s operational life was estimated at 7,000 flight hours. The oldest Pave Hawks in the fleet will reach that milestone soon, and Air Force Gen. John Jumper, head of the Air Combat Command, has told National Defense Magazine that the entire Pave Hawk fleet will have exceeded its 7,000 flight-hour life expectancy by 2019.
In January 1999, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) also noted that the HH-60G was deficient in areas such as survivability, range/ combat radius, payload capacity/ cabin volume, battle-space/ situational awareness, mission reaction (deployment) time, adverse weather operations and service life limit.
On October 01, 2003 the CSAR mission passed temporarily from Air Combat Command (ACC) to Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOCOM), which determined that it needed new aircraft for combat search-and-rescue missions (CSAR). Traditionally, the CSAR mission has been limited to the recovery of downed aircrew from within hostile territory. However, the mission is evolving with the nature of modern warfare to enable rapid insertion and/or recovery of special operations forces.
AFSOCOM sought 132 medium-lift helicopters to replace the aging fleet of 105 HH-60 Pave Hawks used for combat search-and-rescue missions, with the new aircraft slated for delivery by 2010. Initially, the Air Force had planned to select a replacement helicopter in 2004, but in mid-2002 this was delayed by two years. The Air Force will thus begin the process of acquiring a new CSAR aircraft in FY 2005, with an award to be made in FY 2006. The new Personal Recovery Vehicle (PRV) CSAR program was expected to involve $1.5 billion in development costs and $9.5-10 billion in production costs.
In March 2006, program authority passed back to ACC from AFSOC, but the program continued.
The American-built US101 is a U.S. built version of the Eurocopter EH101. A modified civilian version is currently in search-and-rescue service with the Canadian military as the CH-149 Cormorant, and the military version is in use by many other NATO allies. It will enable the Air Force to transport vehicles as large as a sport utility vehicle, or configure the space to accommodate 16 litters or more than 30 troops, along with weapons for 360-degree coverage of the aircraft. It has good speed for a helicopter, long range at up to 750 miles unrefueled, and a strong service record.
Its biggest weakness is the placement of fuel under the cabin floor, which hurts survivability because combat search and rescue regularly takes fire during extractions. Recent problems with rotor hub cracking on the Canadian CH-149s, and the crash of a British Merlin EH101 with the same problem, may also have hurt Team US101’s chances.
Lockheed Martin had signed a teaming agreement with ITT Industries of Clifton, NJ. The agreement will support Team US101’s bid to win the U.S. Air Force’s upcoming 132-helicopter Personnel Recovery Vehicle (PRV) combat search-and-rescue helicopter competition. Under the terms of this agreement, ITT would provide critical mission systems equipment for the modified US101/ EH101 helicopter, and help define the spiral growth of their systems during the life of the PRV program.
In the end, that was not necessary. The EH101 will remain as a heavy-duty anti-submarine helicopter for several European countries, and a battlefield troop transport for others. As discussed in a recent European helicopter market forecast, however, the smaller NH90 looks set to grab a dominant role in Europe in both of those capacities.
In th beginning, Sikorsky’s H-92 Superhawk, which lost out in the Marine One Presidential helicopter competition, was widely seen as the US101’s main competitor for the PRV/CSAR-X program. It’s derived from the existing H-60 series (Black Hawk, Seahawk, HH-60 Pave Hawk CASR, et. al.) but significantly upgraded and redesigned to compete with European helicopters like the EH101 and NH90. The H-92 Superhawk lacks the EH101’s speed and range, but it does offer important survivability enhancements along with a certain level of commonality with the USA’s extensive H-60 helicopter fleet.
It was recently selected as the Martime Helicopter for the Canadian Navy as the CH-148 Cyclone, and received some good reviews and Presidential orders as a VIP helicopter for heads of state. Nevertheless, the Superhawk has no other military orders to this point. As noted below, with its loss in the CSAR-X competition, the H-92 looks set to travel the same path as Sikorsky’s S-76 into a position as Sikorsky’s front-line civilian helicopter in the VIP/medium role category.
Enter Boeing in September 2005, with a pair of very different wild cards.
One of those wild cards is a variant of an old standby – the CH-47 Chinook. Built on a new airframe, the Boeing HH-47 CSAR-X rescue aircraft is equipped with advanced countermeasures and survivability enhancements similar to those utilized in U.S. Special Operations MH-47G heavy assault rotorcraft. It has proven long-range performance, significant combat experience, and proven performance under difficult conditions. Variants are in use by militaries worldwide.
Like its existing Special Forces counterpart, the HH-47 would come fully equipped with a net-ready cockpit, forward-looking infrared (FLIR), terrain-following and terrain avoidance radar, and in-flight refueling capabilities. The HH-47 also touts a fully coupled autopilot, integrated multimode radar for nap-of-the-earth and low-level flight operations in poor visibility conditions, improved digital maps, and Link 16 capability. SOCOM doesn’t talk about its technology, but it’s highly likely that most if not all of these capabilities are already in use or in the process of being installed in 160th SOAR “Night Stalkers” MH-47Gs.
Features that are likely to be new include special corrosion protection for the fuselage and rescue hoist, improved power, vibration reduction and transportability enhancements, an environmentally controlled patient treatment area, a 48-inch starboard door, rotor blade de-icing and wire strike protection. With its internal auxiliary fuel tanks, the HH-47 would be capable of self-deployment over 1,160 nautical miles without refueling.
The HH-47 will also feature uprated T55-GA-714A engines producing 4,868 maximum shaft horsepower, which enables the aircraft to reach speeds in excess of 175 mph and provides the capability to transport a payload of up to 21,016 lbs. This, too, is already a standard feature on MH-47G models, and these uprated engines have been ordered by Egypt for its CH-47 Chinook fleet. More countries are likely to follow, as modernization programs for the worldwide CH-47 force continue.
Finally, the new aircraft will be equipped with an improved air transportability kit, fully compliant with time requirements, to simplify aft pylon removal and reduce build-up time. This will make strategic deployment by C-5 aircraft a simpler and faster option when speed is of the essence.
In the end, this was the winning entry. But Boeing’s second entry, which has a Special Forces heritage of its own, was at least as interesting.
The tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey may have had its share of development problems, but a recent interview with SOCOM’s commander clearly illustrates the importance U.S. Special Forces are placing on the CV-22’s capabilities. It can travel twice as fast as some slower helicopters when flying at altitude, allowing faster access and escape – and this speed also allows the V-22 to refuel in flight from KC-10 and KC-135 jet tankers, something normal helicopters cannot do.
This is good. Despite trumpeted statistics about the Osprey’s “self-deployable range,” its unrefueled range is actually less than that of the EH101. Severe rotor downwash has been noted as a problem by ground troops, and is likely to be a more serious issue when attempting to perform CSAR over water. Furthermore, issues of “ring vortex state” in hover mode (which tend to flip the Osprey on its back and crash it) have been a perennial problem. Bell Helicopter and Boeing believe they’ve fixed the problem; others are less sure. Regardless, slowed descent is necessary to avoid ring vortex state, which can be an issue as hovering over a “hot zone” is by far the most vulnerable time for a CSAR aircraft. The H-3 and H-53 in Vietnam benefited significantly from their ability to hover and survive while taking ground fire, all the while returning fire from door, window, and ramp machine guns. Three GAU-2 miniguns on the HH-53Bs and Cs certainly helped keep more enemy heads on the ground instead of looking skyward to fire.
Now add V-22 issues like no door gunner to provide covering fire (because the wing and engine block half their field of fire), tiny side windows that provide low visibility despite the fact that all-around visibility is critical for CASR, questions about its maximum hover altitude with full fuel tanks and its full complement of men and CASR equipment, etc.
Cost is also an issue for the proposed PRV-22. A fully equipped HH-101 is likely to carry a price tag of well over $50 million each; Italy paid over $48 million per aircraft for its EH101s back in 1995. Likewise, Boeing’s MH-47G is already a $40+ million aircraft. These are definitely at the high end of the helicopter scale, and indeed the expected costs of the PRV program accommodate that. Based on the Canadian Maritime Helicopter contract, the H-92 is also a $50 million class machine ($3.2 billion for 27 helicopters, of which $1.8 billion was a parts & training package).
At $75-105 million per aircraft before modifications for CASR, the CV-22 Osprey is in a cost class significantly above its competitors. Some critics in Congress and beyond have even called for the replacement of the entire V-22 program with a more cost-effective fleet of medium helicopters. Ironically, both the EH101 and/or H-92 Superhawk have been mentioned as prospective replacements.
To compensate for this issue, the Bell-Boeing team is attempting to sell the idea that the Air Force would need fewer PRV-22s to fulfill the CSAR-X mission. It was also suggested that a mixed fleet of PRV-22s and helicopters might meet the Air Force’s needs, while costing less than an all-V-22 fleet. At this point, however, there is no indication that the U.S. Air Force wants a mixed fleet.
“This [the PRV-22] is more than just a new car smell,” one program executive told Aviation Week & space Technology, “this is a new way of doing business.”
That may be true. The question is, in what sense of the term.
Despite significant lobbying and a speed advantage that any busy chief executive should welcome, the V-22 was not even a finalist in the Marine One Presidential helicopter competition. Still, the V-22 has garnered enough support to survive 15 years of attempts at program cancellation by the Defense Department and political critics. The hopes pinned on it by Special Operations Command, the revolutionary promises around the technology, and high-level interest in increasing the relatively small number of V-22s the USA can afford to buy may yet make the PRV-22 Osprey a significant contender that can stake out the high performance end of the CASR-X competition.
At this point, in this field, it’s hard not to see Boeing as having a slight edge over its rivals. The HH-47 offers proven experience in the role and significant capacity, while the Bell-Boeing CV-22 offers the promise of transformation as the high performance option. The last move now belongs to Sikorsky – and Boeing’s moves complicate both of Sikorsky’s options.
The question for Sikorsky must now turn to “what differentiates the H-92 in this crowd?” Both Boeing and Lockheed are offering proven designs in service with many nations, including the USA. The H-92 is only in service with Canada thus far.
In addition, the British have already purchased an EH101 for their ground forces, designated as the Merlin HC Mk3; GlobalSecurity.org notes that it “fills a capability gap between Chinook and Puma… undertaking a wide variety of roles including troop carrying, small vehicle and/or cargo carrying capability. It will support ground forces in a wide range of operational scenarios, including combat search and rescue, in National, NATO and UN operations.”
While the Merlin’s CSAR approval is a positive point, note the implicit positioning issues. If the Chinook is seen as “above” the EH-101, it’s definitely “above” the H-92 as well. Its twin-rotor design gives it certain advantages in performing delicate maneuvers or operating in “hot and high” conditions, and its Special Forces heritage is highly applicable to the CASR mission. Meanwhile, the CV-22 has center stage as the most “modern” competitor.
The twin-engine H-92 is broadly comparable to the three-engined EH-101; nevertheless, it does have less range and some may consider it slightly underpowered by comparison. This is a potential issue for the CASR role, as survivability and performance with one engine knocked out matter a great deal in this unforgiving and highly specialized function.
Commonality of some parts et. al. with the USA’s H-60 fleet, including the existing HH-60 Pave Hawk CASR helicopter fleet, may not be enough to win in this context. Yet the future of the H-92 platform may be riding on the CASR-X contract. A second failure will leave the H-92 without a US military customer base for the foreseeable future, giving the H-92 a distinct “second best” reputation abroad. Once garnered, such reputations can be hard to shake.
What to do?
One potential option for Sikorsky would be to take a page from Boeing’s playbook. Like the H-92 and HH-47, this choice would offer broad commonality with a major component of the US military’s future helicopter fleet. Like the MH-47G, it would offer a Special Forces heritage, with a proven combat record and outstanding range and capacity. Like the EH101, it would offer a 3-engined helicopter, with proven reliability on land and sea. This choice also has a nearly unmatched service record as a combat search-and-rescue helicopter – and ties into a major future contract for the US military.
The MH-53M Pave Low IV, special operations helicopter and lineal descendant of the Vietnam-era “Jolly Green Giant” CASR standbys, is a member of an old and proven helicopter family. It is, if anything, even “heavier” than the Chinook, and definitely outweighs the EH101. It has all of the advanced technology integration that the HH-47 can build on, and more. It’s also a platform with a continuing lease on life, given the US military’s CH-53X program to produce new and upgraded CH-53E Super Stallions.
Recent operations in Afghanistan, for example, showed the need for CSAR helicopters that can fly at high altitudes and perform in rough terrain and austere weather conditions. The only helicopters that could meet those conditions in Afghanistan were the Army Special Operations’ MH-47 Chinooks and the Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallions. Many search and rescue missions were assigned to those crews, because they were the only ones with the adequate capabilities.
For a US military whose transformation includes concepts like sea-basing and whose needs in the Global War on Terror often require deep insertions and long-range strikes, an HH-53X “Jolly Green Giant II” could be a differentiating choice in an all-helicopter field. One that sat near the top of the helicopter cost heap, perhaps; but one that also offered ease of naval deployment, the potential of savings on R&D by sharing some aspects of CH-53X development, and a low-risk capabilities set that compared favorably with the rest.
An HH-53X competitor runs into one problem, however: Plans call for the 32 MH-53 Pave Lows to be completely retired by 2012, replaced by CV-22s.
AFSOC actually plans to retire its MH-53s faster than it can bring the CV-22s on line, creating a rotorcraft shortage from 2011 through at least 2014 (and that’s assuming the CV-22’s acquisition remains on schedule). Once on board, the CV-22 may assume some missions now performed by both the MH-53 and the MC-130 Combat Talon variant of the Hercules medium transport aircraft.
Each choice for Sikorsky has plusses and minuses from a positioning standpoint, therefore, complicating considerations from a business standpoint.
A CSAR-X win would launch the H-92 as a major new platform for Sikorsky’s long-term future, and serve as a major springboard for foreign orders. The H-92 is also seen as more “modern” than the MH-53. The aircraft appears to have positioning problems when matched up against the existing competitive field, however, and may not look like a probable winner.
On the other hand, abandoning the H-92 for the bid would be a huge signal of no-confidence that could not be undone – and even if an HH-53X was considered to be a stronger contender with good up-side, it would not be guaranteed to win. While it may be possible to sell an HH-53X as the answer to AFSOC’s rotorcraft shortage down the road, competing against the very aircraft that will replace the MH-53 definitely involves some challenges. On the other hand, leading with what may be their most capable option offers the potential for a big win that could work in conjunction with the CH-53X program to revitalize the H-53 line.
Would Sikorsky would be willing to implicitly abandon the H-92 as a major future platform and bite a large business bullet, in order to dare to win big with another platform?
Either one of Sikorsky’s options is a gamble. Both have definite downsides attached. At stake is a $10-11 billion contract, and possibly the futures of one or both of its helicopter platform options. What will Sikorsky do now?
While the selection of Boeing’s HH-47 seems to indicate a preference for heavy-lift reliability that might have made a naval-capable HH-53X very attractive, Sikorsky’s CH-53 fleet will continue production under the CH-53K program for about 150 helicopters. The H-92, meanwhile, appears to be following the S-76’s path from military competition loser to successful S-92 VIP and medium civilian helicopter; the Canadian Forces remain its sole military customer.
- DID FOCUS Article – CSAR-X: And Boeing Makes One… HH-47 Wins $10B Competition. Will be updated as new contracts and events require.
- DID Spotlight: GAO re: CSAR-X: Re-Compete the Contract! Which spawns a second round of challenges from Lockheed MArtin and Sikorsky, because of the way this was handled. As of July 2007, the challenges et. al. are still ongoing.
- GlobalSecurity.org – Personnel Recovery Vehicle (PRV) Combat Search and Rescue CSAR Replacement Aircraft Program. Offers good program history and details.
- PIXS (Preaward Information eXchange System) – Personnel Recovery Vehicle (PRV)
- Jane’s Defense Weekly (Oct 31/06) – OPINION – Beating brownout is a CSAR priority
- DID (March 6/06) – CSAR-X Update: Authority Being Transferred. AFSOC won’t be responsible for this function any more, and supervision of the contract transfers back to the USAF.
- DID (Sept 27/05) – CH-53X HLR & JHL: Future Heli Programs on Collision Course? Could the CSAR-X decision end up derailing the US Marines’ CH-53X replacement program, AND influencing the futuristic Joint Heavy Lift program’s choice? Possibly. DID explains.
- Lt Gen Michael W. Wooley, USAF, Air & Space Power Journal (Spring 2005) – America’s Quiet Professionals: Specialized Airpower – Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
- Air Force Magazine: March 2005 – The Air Commandos. About AFSOC.
- National Defense Magazine (July 2002) – Search-and-Rescue Helicopter Competition Delayed Until ’06
- National Defense Magazine (Sept 2001) – Air Force Eyes Replacement for Aging Pave Hawk Helos. Includes some good information re: reqired CASR capabilities and why they’re important.
- U.S. Air Force Fact Sheet – Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawk
- Team US101 Official Web Site
- CASR DND 101 EH Industries CH-149 Cormorant (EH101 variant)
- DID (Jan 16/06) – $2 Bn for British EH101 Merlin Multi-Role Upgrades. These upgrades can be expected to be part of any USAF CSAR-X candidate.
- DID (June 13/05) – US101 Gets House Approval for Marine One, Seeks SAR Contract
- Towanda, PA Daily and Sunday Review (June 8/05) – House approves $935.9M to fund Lockheed Martin Marine One project
- Lockheed Martin (June 7/05) – Team US101 Selects ITT Industries To Support Personnel Recovery Vehicle Program
- Air Force Technology: Sikorsky H-92 Superhawk
- CASR DND 101 – Sikorsky EH-148 Cyclone (H-92 variant). See also Ivan Yiu’s excellent independent breakdown of the choice, as some of his factors are material to CSAR missions.
- DID (Feb 3/06) – Sikorsky Announces CSAR-X Helicopter Partnerships, Platform. It’s the H-92.
- Aviation Week (Sept 14/05) – Two CSAR-X Competitors Make Opposite Pitches. Covers Boeing’s HH-47 and CV-22. See also Boeing’s HH-47 release.
- Boeing – HH-47 CSAR-X page
- GlobalSecurity.com – MH-47G Special Operations Aircraft
- DID (March 7/06) – US Army in Flight on Production of (Re)New H-47 Chinooks. Explains the modernization program for the entire H-47 fleet, which will expand the CH-47 and MH-47 special ops helicopter fleet while modernizing it.
- DSCA (June 27/05) – Egypt to Update Chinook with 50 CH-47D, T55-GA-714A Turbine Engines
- Naval Technology – V-22 Osprey – Medium Lift, Multi-Mission Tilt-Rotor Aircraft, USA
- Congressional Research Service Report for Congress (Jan 7/05) – V-22 Osprey Tilt-Rotor Aircraft [report in PDF format]. Very fair. Catalogs all of the program’s travails in detail, and presents the arguments both for and against the V-22 Osprey well.
- The Project On Government Oversight – V-22 Archives. See also DID coverage of the subsequent reports: POGO takes Aim at V-22 Osprey.
- DID (Oct 24/05) – V-22 Bows out of CSAR-X/PRV Competition
- Fort Worth Weekly (July 7/05) – Osprey or Albatross?
- WIRED Magazine (July 2005) – Saving the Pentagon’s Killer Chopper-Plane. A far more positive article than the title might indicate. Very useful for explaining in detail the steps taken to fix key mechanical issues; it does not deal with tactical concerns.
- Air Force Fact Sheet – Sikorsky MH-53J/M Pave Low.
- DID (Jan 10/06) – CH-53K: The U.S. Marines’ HLR Helicopter Program (updated). This is the new formal designation for the CH-53X.
- DID (Sept 27/05) – CH-53X HLR & JHL: Future Heli Programs on Collision Course? CSAR-X could wind up being part of that collision.
- DID (Aug 29/05) – HLR (CH-53X) Helicopter Program Moves Toward Milestone B Approval.
- American Helicopter Society’s Vetifile Magazine (Spring 2002) – An Affordable Solution To Heavy Lift [PDF format] by Lt. Col. James C. Garman, MH-53E pilot in HMH-772 and a Senior Preliminary Design Engineer in the New Product Definition Group, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation. It describes the basic outlines of many low-risk CH-53X improvements.