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Enemy threats are outpacing development of the U.S. Air Force’s new Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH), prompting the Air Force to offer Sikorsky nearly $1 billion for capability upgrades to the HH-60W just as it enters service.
“The government has a requirement for a new contract vehicle to address a broad spectrum of known and undefined CRH operational capabilities,” according to a justification document posted Feb. 11 on the U.S. government’s contracting website.
Under the potential five-year deal for rolling capability upgrades to both the helicopter’s hardware and software systems, Sikorsky — owned by Lockheed Martin — stands to receive up to $980 million.
The Air Force already has taken delivery of two HH-60W helicopters. Sikorsky holds contracts worth $1.6 billion for the first 22 of a planned fleet of 113 HH-60Ws that will replace its aging and battle-worn HH-60G Pave Hawks.
The new helicopter was dubbed the Jolly Green II after the legendary HH-3E “Jolly Green Giant” combat search-and-rescue helicopter famous for plucking downed pilots from lush Vietnam War jungles.
Requirements for the Combat Rescue Helicopter were finalized and frozen in 2012 before Sikorsky was awarded the contract for building helicopters for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of the program. Those helicopters passed a “critical design review” and a decision to begin low-rate initial production was made in September 2019. The Air Force will decide whether to enter full-rate production in “early fiscal year 22,” which begins Oct. 1.
“During the last five years of EMD execution, the original CRH requirements baseline has evolved as a result of changes in threat conditions and evolving mission requirements,” the contract award document says. “The response to this operational need is the driver for the continuance of new capability development and integration into the CRH baseline and subsequent fielding to each main operating base.”
Future capability upgrades will be based on “user approved, prioritized and funded requirements,” gleaned from multiple operational needs statements the Air Force has in hand and “must commence” in the current fiscal year. Specific shortlisted upgrades and the number in hand are redacted form the report, but both hardware and software upgrades are needed, the Air Force said.
Upgrades will cover, but are not limited to avionics (both hardware and software), structures, mandates, deficiency reports, diminishing manufacturing sources and training systems, and will be completed over five years.
Though the contract award to Sikorsky blacks out the candidate capability upgrades, 17 new requirements are listed in a “sources sought solicitation” published in October 2019.