Air Force Secretary Deborah James made the abrupt decision on the
Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH) program shortly before officials
began briefing reporters about the Air Force's budget for the fiscal
year beginning October 1.
Influential lawmakers had pressed for the change, which was the
latest twist in a nearly decade-long quest by the Air Force to
replace its aging fleet of Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters.
"Moving forward with the CRH contract award protects a good
competitive price and effectively uses the $334 million Congress
appropriated for the program," James said in a statement.
"Over the last 10 years, the Air Force has discussed upgrading the
platform that performs this sacred mission for all DoD personnel who
go into harm's way," said James, referring to the Department of
Defense. "This mission is part of the military ethos, and the Air
Force is committed to providing it."
Analysts say the program to build 112 new helicopters is valued at
around $6.8 billion. In 2006, Boeing Co's H-47 Chinook helicopter
was chosen, but the Pentagon canceled the $15 billion contract in
2009 after multiple protests by the losing bidders.
The Air Force was poised last year to award the contract to
Sikorsky, the sole bidder, but delayed the decision while
independent cost estimators reviewed the bid.
The Air Force said it would take $430 million from other priorities
to fund the program, and hoped to award a contract to Sikorsky by
the end of June.
"Sikorsky and our teammate Lockheed Martin thank the U.S. Air Force
for enabling us to build a modern and affordable combat rescue
helicopter," said Sikorsky spokesman Frans Jurgens.
Other potential bidders have dropped out, complaining the rules
favored Sikorsky's Black Hawk helicopter.
The Air Force said the award would come after a review by senior
Pentagon officials and an independent cost estimate.
[to top of second column]
Senators Charles Schumer, who heads the Senate rules committee, and
Dick Durbin, who heads the Senate defense appropriations
subcommittee, called James on Tuesday after they learned that the
budget did not include funding for the rescue helicopter, said a
source familiar with the matter who is not authorized to speak
publicly about it.
"There's a lot of support for this program," the source said.
Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, applauded the
decision and said she had spoken to James on Tuesday afternoon about
the 112 helicopter contract.
"The combat rescue helicopters are critical life-saving assets that
the Air Force has needed for years to replace its current fleet of
worn-down aircraft," she said in a statement.
DeLauro was one of 74 lawmakers in the House of Representatives to
sign a letter in December urging support for the rescue helicopter
James said the program could still face challenges in Congress and
would have to be reevaluated if mandatory budget cuts resumed in
(Editing by Andre Grenon and Richard Chang)
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