Competitors Line Up for ICBM Security Helicopter Program.

Author:Magnuson, Stew

Three competitors have emerged for an Air Force program to replace a fleet of nearly half-century-old helicopters used to protect intercontinental ballistic missile fields.

The Air Force and U.S. Strategic Command need to replace a fleet of aging UH-1N Huey helicopters that provide security over missile fields and stand by near Washington, D.C., to evacuate VIPs in case the capital has a really bad day. The number of aircraft required isn't large, but with few new-start rotary-wing programs on the horizon, manufacturers are keen to compete.

The Air Force has 62 such aircraft now, but has a requirement to replace them with a fleet of 84. The contract award is expected at the end of May 2018 with deliveries beginning in 2019.

The Huey's primary missions include: airlift for emergency security forces stationed at missile bases; off-base nuclear weapons convoy surveillance; and VIP transport. A handful of the helicopters are slated for missile test range support.

A Boeing-Leonardo team, Lockheed Martin's Sikorsky Aircraft and Sierra Nevada Corp. are the three teams that announced that they had submitted a proposal before the September deadline. The Air Force, however, is not required to disclose the competitors, nor are potential contractors required to announce their intentions.

Bell Helicopter--the manufacturer of the UH-1N light utility helicopter--will not be among the competitors, Steve Mathias, vice president of global military business development at Bell Helicopter Textron Inc., confirmed on the sidelines of the Air Force Association's annual Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

"From where we are right now and after seeing the requirement, we decided not to submit," he said. "We have a lot of work going on right now," he said, citing the V-280 Valor, V-22 Osprey and the company's civilian offerings, the 505 Jet Ranger and the 525 Relentless. The company did not have an off-the-shelf aircraft suitable for the requirements, he said.

Sierra Nevada is proposing refurbishing UH-60A Black Hawks the Army no longer needs and are destined to be sold in the commercial market, the trade publication Aviation Week first reported. The upgraded model would be called the Force Hawk.

The company's proposal mirrors the Air Force's original plan to convert older model Black Hawks to replace the Huey and issue a sole-source contract. That upset several members of Congress however, and the Air Force bowed to their wishes and...

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