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Personnel Recovery Vehicle (PRV)
Combat Search and Rescue CSAR Replacement Aircraft CSAR-X

In April 2009, the Secretary of Defense recommended canceling or curtailing all or part of at least a half dozen major defense acquisition programs-including the Air Force's Combat Search and Rescue helicopter. The initiation of CSAR-X Block 0 development was delayed several times, in part due to two bid protests filed at GAO. The Air Force awarded the Block 0 development contract to Boeing in November 2006, but a bid protest by competing contractors filed with GAO required the Air Force to suspend the beginning of product development activities.

In February 2007, GAO sustained the protest. In response, the Air Force amended its request for proposals. However, the competitors filed another bid protest in response to the Air Force's amended request. This second protest was also sustained by GAO in August 2007. As a result, the Air Force again amended the request for proposals in response to the protest. Further, the Air Force released another amendment in December 2008 to incorporate more changes and clarifications. Program officials did not expect to award a Block 0 development contract before spring 2009.

The delay to Block 0 development appeared likely affect the entire CSAR-X acquisition schedule including the development of Block 10, which was scheduled to start in 2010. Although the Air Force would have liked to have the first unit of CSAR-X helicopters in the field by 2013, program officials acknowledged that initial operational capability could occur as late as 2015, because of the delays in beginning product development.

The Air Force's Combat Search and Rescue Replacement Vehicle (CSAR-X) was planned to provide a vertical take-off and landing aircraft that is quickly deployable and capable of main base and austere location operations for worldwide combat search and rescue and personnel recovery missions. The CSAR-X was to be developed in two blocks and will replace the aging HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter fleet.

The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command had need for approximately 132 aircraft for combat search and rescue missions (CSAR), or personnel recovery. Traditionally, the CSAR mission has been limited to the recovery of downed aircrew from within hostile territory. However, the mission is evolving with the nature of modern warfare to enable rapid insertion and/or recovery of special operations forces. On 20 June 2005 the Personnel Recovery Vehicle program was renamed Combat Search and Rescue-X (CSAR-X). The formal RFP, and supporting documentation, were updated to reflect the change.

On 09 November 2006 the Boeing Company's HH-47 helicopter was selected by the US Air Force as the winner of the Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) program competition. The CSAR program calls for initial operational capability of the HH-47 aircraft in 2012.

The Personnel Recovery Vehicle (PRV) was the follow-on Combat Search and Rescue vehicle to the HH-60G. The PRV was tasked with recovering downed aircrew members and other isolated personnel during war. It was also tasked to perform rescue operations in Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW), to include civil search and rescue, emergency aeromedical evacuation, disaster relief, international aid, noncombatant evacuation operations, counter-drug operations, and space shuttle support.

The PRV will provide Personnel Recovery (PR) forces with a medium-lift vertical take-off and landing aircraft that is quickly deployable and capable of main base and austere location operations for worldwide PR missions. The PRV will be capable of operating in all environmental regions of the globe (e.g., arctic, desert, mountainous, littoral, tropical, etc.), day or night during adverse weather conditions, and in a variety of spectrums of warfare to include passing through Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) environments. On-board defensive capabilities will permit the PRV to operate in an increased threat environment. An in-flight refueling capability will provide an airborne alert capability and extend its combat mission range. The aircraft will be self-supporting to the maximum extent practical.

Recovering U.S. evaders during combat operations is traditionally a costly effort. In Vietnam, for every 1.8 U.S. Navy combat search and rescue (CSAR) recovery, one CSAR crewman was killed. For every 1.4 recoveries, one CSAR aircraft was lost. The Navy successfully recovered only nine percent of the downed flight personnel they targeted for CSAR. Likewise, U.S. Air Force CSAR efforts in North Vietnam experienced one CSAR crewman and two CSAR aircraft lost for every 9.2 recoveries. More most recent experiences in Desert Storm and Bosnia reveal no significant improvement in this capability.

The Joint CSAR Joint Test and Evaluation of the CSAR mission area found that a major contributor to mission failure was the lack of a command, control, and communication system capable of satisfying CSAR requirements and providing a real time link between the evader/survivor and the rescue force. These deficiencies often require launching recovery platforms and support forces prior to determining the location and condition of the evader/survivor. Searching costs lives and resources.

CSAR Requirements

The Air Force has some requirements that the HH-60G does not meet. The six main areas are speed, range, cabin space, survivability, battle-space awareness and all-weather operability. A mission-needs statement, approved by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council raised these issues in 1999. It set the stage for acquiring a replacement for the Pave Hawks -- the Personnel Recovery Vehicle, or PRV. A study was conducted, followed by the development of the PRV operational-requirements document.

In addition, the aircraft are aging. They are beginning to cost significantly more money in terms of maintenance and the manpower to work on them to keep them flying. By 2004 the HH-60G Pave Hawks that comprise the CSAR helicopter fleet were 14 years old on average. The oldest were 23 years old and have surpassed the 7,000 flying-hour mark. The aging aircraft cannot meet mission requirements.

The PRV process may also reveal additional benefits, such as a common helicopter to suit all Air Force requirements. Air Combat Command did a study to determine whether or not a common-helicopter concept would be cost effective and what synergy would come from replacing the UH-1 (Huey) helicopters with something like the PRV. The ACC study found savings of more than $600 million by using the common-helicopter concept.

Other efficiencies in training and maintenance were also discovered. By changing from different helicopters to one common airframe modified to fit mission requirements, many training obstacles vanish. When pilots and maintainers want to change airframes, they must attend formal training for each airframe. With the one-airframe concept, that requirement goes away and the mission-unique training could be accomplished at the operational unit. The development of a common Air Force helicopter would be a first for the service. The current fleets of Pave Hawks and Hueys are modifications of helicopters developed for the Army.

The PRV was seen as the most promising near-term opportunity to inject innovation into this sector - if missed, could commit the Department to 30 more years of legacy technology. There was some speculation that the VXX could provide an initial innovative spark to be used in Personnel Recovery Vehicle (PRV), but its off-the-shelf acquisition strategy made this highly unlikely. The VXX program acquisition strategy called for the modification of an existing medium-lift helicopter capable of incorporating Presidential transportation and command and control needs. The desire to accelerate the program limited the Department to two competitors - a U.S. supplier and a U.S./off-shore joint venture, both using existing technology. The 23 aircraft purchase will do little to stimulate innovation within the U.S. industrial base and may not provide the winner of VXX any particular advantage in the follow-on Personnel Recovery Vehicle (formerly the Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) helicopter) competition in the 2005 timeframe.

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Page last modified: 12-07-2014 18:07:40 ZULU