AFA: Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky is on track to deliver nine new HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopters to the Air Force for the price the company promised and six months early — a “man bites dog” story, the very definition of news. Delivering early and for the promised price is far from the norm in defense acquisition, where schedule delays and cost overruns hardly seem like news anymore, but are routine media fodder.
“CRH is probably a pretty boring story, because it is on cost and ahead of schedule,” Sikorsky official David “Rum” Morgan offered, tongue in cheek, when I talked to him at AFA. Sikorsky won the CRH contract in June 2014. It’s supposed to deliver the first nine of 112 HH-60Ws by September of 2020 but expects to have that initial batch in Air Force hands by March of that year. The Whiskey models will replace the Air Force’s aging HH-60G Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopters.
In some respects, Sikorsky providing nine Whiskey model Black Hawks to the Air Force in 69 months instead 75 during the $1.5 billion Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase of the CRH program shouldn’t be that surprising. The company has been building Black Hawks since the late 1970s, after all. The Defense Department has about 3,000 of various models in service, and the HH-60W is a derivative of the late model UH-60M the Army is buying.
At the same time, this isn’t just a new paint job. To make the HH-60W, Sikorsky is reconfiguring the UH-60M to get rid of two 185-gallon auxiliary tanks the Mike model carries inside the cabin and to expand the existing 360-gallon internal fuel tank in the airframe to 660 gallons. That will add cabin space for all the people and equipment the Whiskey will have to carry to do the CRH mission: two pilots, two gunners, guns, ammo, a three-member “PJ” pararescue team with their medical gear and supplies, and room for two “ambulatory patients.”
Sikorsky is able to deliver the first nine Whiskey models early and for the promised price in part thanks to Program Director Josh Cleveland, Morgan said – by way of pointing out that Cleveland and his team are also handling Sikorsky’s proposal for another big Air Force contract, the long-delayed replacement of 62 UH-1N Huey Emergency Security Response helicopters.
The UH-1Ns transport security forces at three nuclear missile bases and provide overwatch of convoys when missiles or warheads have to be taken off base for maintenance or other reasons. The Air Force plans to buy 84 helicopters to replace its UH-1Ns, buying more to provide new machines as well to its 1st Helicopter Squadron, which is on alert 24 hours a day at Joint Base Andrews to evacuate key government leaders from Washington in an emergency.
The Air Force received proposals for the UH-1N replacement last week from Sikorsky, offering a UH-60M modification designated HH-60U, and from Boeing Company, teamed with Rome-headquartered Leonardo. The Boeing-Leonardo team is offering a militarized version of the European company’s AW139 civilian helicopter, assembled at Leonardo Helicopter in Philadelphia.
The Air Force initially intended to award Sikorsky a sole-source deal for HH-60Us to replace its UH-1Ns but competed the contract after key members of Congress objected. Contract award is scheduled for the end of next May. We’re betting the award won’t come early.