The fight over who will design the U.S. Air Force’s new combat search-and-rescue helicopter (CSAR) is underway.
The Air Force last week issued a request for proposals (RfP) for the project, setting cost and performance parameters that will guide one of the service’s most expensive aircraft acquisitions over in the coming years.
The new Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH) — as it has formally been rebranded — is DoD’s second attempt over the past decade to replace its heavily used Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawks, some of which have been performing military and civil rescue operations since 1982.
The CSAR-X program (newly rebranded as the CRH program) is pretty much the poster child for the defects of the acquisition process, especially in that the contractors are essentially in control of the customer.
We need transparency and honesty and fairness in the contracting process, and appeals to the GAO and the court system for redress seems fair. But we’ve reached the point where virtually every significant program has a “losers veto” where protests grind programs to a complete halt. The protests rarely take into account which offering actually best meets the needs of America, but focus on arcane specifications and technicalities in the contracting process.
The obvious choice to replace the H-60 family is a variant of the MH-47G already in production for the US Army. And indeed, that’s what the first CSAR-X competition selected. But years of challenges and court cases killed the program, at great expense to the government, and left already overage H-60s to struggle for even more years.
The Romney campaign has promised to streamline the acquisition process to lower development costs. We certainly hope they succeed (both in winning the election, and reforming acquisition). Ensuring that the customer, and not the contractor, gets final say on what is bought is key.