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Who Could Bid to Replace the Air Force’s UH-1 Hueys?

by John Reed on March 17, 2011

So, it’s looking more and more likely that the Air Force will hold a competition to replace its fleet of about 90 UH-1N Huey choppers. For a while there the Air Force was hell-bent on buying a chopper with zero competition. But Air Force Secretary Michael Donley seems to have finally killed that idea.

From DoDBuzz:

Air Force Secretary Mike Donley told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he is “absolutely sure competition will be involved” in the the purchase of the Common Vertical Lift Support Platform.

Since this is the case we here at DT thought we’d take a look at the likely candidates to replace the service’s Vietnam-era utility birds under the Common Vertical Lift Support (CVLSP) program.

First, let’s take a look at what the service says it wants in the new helicopters:

The helo must be able to cruise at about 100 knots, carry up to 13 passengers (depending on the situation), have protection from 7.62 mm weapons fire, electro-optical and infrared sensors, infrared countermeasures, secure satellite communications, be night vision goggle compatible and be able to carry enough weapons of its own to mow down several infantry squads worth of enemy troops.

But wait, there’s more. It’s also got to be able to carry nine passengers or 3,100 pounds of gear while flying at 135 knots at 6,500 feet. Oh, and it has to be able to stay airborne for at least three hours at that altitude.

So, who are the potential bidders?

Well, there’s the obvious one. The Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk. It’s in production right now, meets the requirements, the Air Force knows how to maintain it and the service could combine the CVLSP-buy with its plan to replace its lost and worn out HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue choppers. Air Force brass repeatedly expressed interest in buying these choppers from the Army and outfitting them for the CVLSP mission with no competition using something called the economy act of 1932 as justification. Now, however, it looks like Sikorsky will have to battle it out in a competition.

Next is AgustaWestland’s AW139M. The M model is a modified version of the AW139 chopper and could be built on the existing AW139 production line in Philadelphia, it meets the requirements and Agusta officials claim that it was purpose-built to replace the Huey and that it can be delivered quickly.

Next up; EADS subsidiary Eurocopter who is rumored to be considering offering a version of its Cougar chopper. This is a new version of an old design (the venerable Puma) and the company would have to establish a production facility here in the U.S. Still, EADS does build the U.S. Army’s Huey replacement, the UH-71 Lakota at a small plant in Mississippi. Who knows what it would cost to enlarge that facility to build the much larger Cougars. I’m guessing they’d be pretty pricey. Then again, look at how EADS was confident it could bid a very aggressive price with its bigger, newer A330-based tanker versus Boeing’s 767-based design in KC-X.

And speaking of modified versions of old designs. Let’s take a look at Bell, who might very well offer its UH-1Y Venom. A vast improvement over the UH-1N with 125 percent more cargo capacity than the UH-1N and nearly 50 percent greater range and speed over the older Hueys. It’s in production and is proving itself in combat with the Marines right now. Still, it’s a bit on the small side.

And finally, I’ve even heard rumors that Boeing may offer it’s giant CH-47 Chinook. This just seems like overkill for the mission. Although, if there happens to be a competition to replace the HH-60 fleet, this bird could have a shot. Especially since it won a round of the original CSAR-X contest years ago, I mean, buying more of them would help drive costs down. It’s super fast, can carry plenty of cargo and the latest versions of it keep rolling off Boeing Philadelphia production line. Still, it’s huge and strikes me as a bit overkill for the job of patrolling missile fields and ferry VIPs around Washington. And keep in mind, bigger, more powerful choppers often equal more cash.

Anything else you’d like to see in the competition? Sound off in the comments. Oh, and anyone recognize who that is sitting in the back of that Huey pictured above? C’mon, it’s almost too easy.

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