V-22 Bows out of CSAR-X/PRV Competition
Recent DID articles have conveyed doubts about the V-22 Osprey’s attributes in the search-and-rescue (SAR) category, beginning with our original in-depth coverage and analysis of the $8-10 billion, 141-helicopter CSAR-X/PRV competition and continuing into our coverage of recent V-22 evaluation reports. The US Navy, which has placed its buy of 48 HV-22s for the SAR role on the deep back-burner in favor of the MH-60 helicopter, said a lot on this subject without saying a lot. On the other hand, a recent article in DefenseNews noted that as DID had predicted, the US Marines were making a push for the V-22 in order to expand the USA’s tilt-rotor fleet.
That decision is now out of their hands, however. In an Oct. 20 press release, the Bell-Boeing PRV-22 team said that it has made the decision not to submit a proposal for the U.S. Air Force CSAR-X competition:
“After thorough review of the revised Air Force request for proposal, it was clear that the CSAR-X program’s requirements and funding profile did not call for the advanced speed and range offered by the V-22 Osprey, and instead leaned toward capabilities found in more-traditional helicopter-type aircraft.”
Helicopter manufacturing officials said they expected the RFP in July, but changes to the CSAR requirements delayed the request documents.
Another month was lost, they said, when the initial acquisition decision memorandum – the Pentagon’s official OK to release the requests – contained language to give the Defense Department the right to void any Air Force decision and award the contract to a Pentagon choice. That clause was omitted just days before the 495-page RFP was released [Oct 05, 2005], industry officials said.
It would appear that Air Force Special Operations Command will remain firmly in control of the procurement process. Nevertheless, this is not to say that politics will be absent. Defense News also reports the opinion that:
“Buy America’ sentiments could play a big role in the CSAR-X competition, especially following AgustaWestland’s victory in the [VH-71] helicopter competition, and continuing pressure by [Europe’s] EADS to compete for the [U.S. Air force] tanker procurement,” said Christopher Bolkcom, the aviation analyst at the Congressional Research Service.
Perhaps so. DID suggests that other complicating factors may also be at work for the Lockheed bid.
As discussed in US CSAR Competition: And Boeing Makes 3…, the remaining field still leaves Boeing with a strong CSAR-X contender in the modified HH-47, based on their MH-47G Chinook special forces helicopter. Since the Chinook will remain in service until 2030, Boeing’s “old helicopter” option is actually an established airframe with a long term future.
Lockheed’s EH101/US 101 collaboration with Augusta-Westland may be the new VH-71 “Marine One” US Presidential helicopter and has some range and speed advantages, but it may be handicapped in this competition by recent Canadian SAR experiences. While the aircraft has performed well when flown, Canada has grounded its EH101/CH-149 Cormorant search-and-rescue fleet due to persistent cracks in the tail rotor hub (cracks believed to have caused the crash of a British EH101 Merlin as well), and reassigned smaller “twin Huey” Bell 412/ CH-146 Griffon helicopters to that role. The Canadians are also experiencing EH101 maintenance requirements and costs about 200% higher than originally forecast. If resolutions to these issues aren’t found fairly soon, the effects on the aircraft’s American market prospects are likely to be significant.
Sikorsky has yet to officially declare its candidate. The HH-92 may still have some positioning problems vs. the HH-47 and US101, and the concept of an HH-53X “Jolly Green Giant II” that piggybacks on the CH-53X Heavy Lift Replacement program just watched its most formidable competitor (the CV-22, which will be replacing some of the MH-53M Pave Low IV special forces helicopters at SOCOM) bow out. Sikorsky still has choices to make with some major stakes attached.