Air Force reviews Sikorsky bid for $6.8 billion copter deal
WASHINGTON — U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah James says she's reviewing whether the service can afford a contract for combat-rescue helicopters that drew only one bid, raising questions about whether a unit of United Technologies Corp. will receive a multibillion-dollar award this year.
The Air Force said in November that United Technologies' Sikorsky aircraft unit was the sole contractor that responding to a request for proposals for as many as 112 helicopters with a potential value of $6.8 billion. The service said it was "laying the groundwork to award" the contract by March 30.
Lockheed Martin Corp. has teamed with Sikorsky on the proposed helicopter, the CRH-60.
"Given the funding constraints that we're under, I personally am doing a lot of due diligence now to try and figure out if we can award it and when we can award it," James said Wednesday in an interview after she spoke at Bloomberg Government's Defense Transformation conference in Washington.
"There are a variety of options on the table," said James, who was confirmed as Air Force secretary in December.
The helicopter is intended to rescue pilots downed during missions and perform civil search and rescue, humanitarian missions, disaster relief and casualty evacuation. It's intended to replace the Air Force's HH-60 Pave Hawk, also made by Sikorsky, which entered service in 1982.
Sikorsky Aircraft spokesman Frans Jurgens said in an emailed statement that an award this year "will deliver the most affordable solution" that can be fielded by 2020 and that other options "will further delay a critically important requirement."
The aircraft, which would be built by Stratford, Conn.-based Sikorsky, has support from the state's lawmakers including Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who's on the House Appropriations panel.
In December, DeLauro was the lead signatory of a bipartisan letter from 73 lawmakers to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel advocating the program. While lawmakers approved combined funding of $333 million for the helicopter in this fiscal year and fiscal 2015, that doesn't guarantee funding beyond that.
The Air Force's aging rescue helicopters "need to be replaced," lawmakers said in the defense appropriations measure. "However, in a period of fiscal austerity, the program must be affordable to ensure that it is not canceled due to insufficient funding in future years."
James said she's "already talked to quite a few officials here in Washington" to make her decision on the helicopter, and that she'll also be "seeing some of the existing helicopters that perform this mission."
She said her decision "will be soon, and then we'll move forward."
The Air Force said in November that "we intend to award a contract based upon budget availability" and it's "contingent on the outcome of the president's budget review process" in which the contract would need to be funded in the Air Force's plan for 2015 to 2019.