UH-1N Replacement Program
Boeing announced Sept. 24, 2018 that it would provide its MH-139 helicopter and related support to the U.S. Air Force to replace the more than 40-year-old UH-1N “Huey” helicopters used to protect America’s intercontinental ballistic missile bases. The program award was valued at $2.4 billion for up to 84 helicopters, training devices and associated support equipment.
The UH-1N Replacement Program will replace the current fleet of United States Air Force's (USAF) UH-1N Helicopters with up to 84 UH-1N Replacement AVs. The Air Force needs a total of 72 aircraft to replace the outdated UH-1Ns that entered service over 40 years ago. Forty-one of those would be equipped for the nuclear mission, while the rest would be used primarily for VIP transport.
The UH-1N replacement program would replace the Department of the Air Force UH-1N fleet by acquiring a non-developmental commercial or U.S. Government vertical lift aircraft. The UH-1N supports vertical lift requirements within Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC), Air Force District of Washington (AFDW), Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), and Air Education and Training Command (AETC).
The primary Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) helicopter mission is to provide security forces with a continuous contingency response capability for the national ICBM complex. However, the Bell UH–1N is not capable of meeting current security requirements. It does not meet Key Performance Parameters for speed, endurance, range, or payload. UH–1Ns are not armed with offensive weapons, have no defensive capabilities or countermeasures, and cannot operate in a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear (CBRN) environment.
The average Air Force UH–1N airframe is four decades years old. The original design life for this aircraft was 2,500 flying hours, although some aircraft in the inventory have over 13,000 hours. The UH–1N fleet is showing its age with fatigue-related cracks in the tail boom and is currently undergoing its second tail boom replacement enabling it to meet flight safety standards.
The Utility Helicopter (UH)-1N Replacement Program addresses vertical lift support mission requirements for Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC), Air Force District of Washington (AFDW), Pacific Air Force (PACAF), Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), and Air Education and Training Command (AETC). The UH-1N Replacement aircraft will provide vertical lift support for nuclear weapon convoy escort, 24/7 adverse weather capable Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) emergency security response and operational support, as well as Operational Support Airlift (OSA) in the National Capital Region. Other missions will include Pacific Air Forces OSA, USAF survival school support, and combat aviation school training.
The UH-1N Replacement program will replace the current Air Force fleet of 62 UH-1N aircraft by acquiring a vertical lift aircraft with mature technology that minimizes acquisition time and a goal of leveraging existing airworthiness certifications. Due to the capability gaps with the current system that restrict mission execution, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) and Lead Command have prioritized immediate fielding over development time to achieve objective performance values. The acquisition of a mature system will enable the Air Force to tailor process timelines and expedite the delivery of an urgently required capability. This will yield the best balance reduced risk, acceptable performance, executable schedule, and life cycle affordability.
The UH-1N does not possess an established engineering service life based on accumulated flight hours. However, the current UH-1N fleet has severe capability shortfalls in carrying capacity, speed, range, endurance, survivability and is unable to meet their assigned mission requirements.
In the committee report (H. Rept. 114-102) accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, the House Armed Services committee noted that the current UH-1N aircraft fleet fails to meet speed, range, payload, and defensive system requirements. The committee also noted that modifications to the existing fleet will not enable the UH-1N to meet mission requirements, and that the Department of the Air Force was assessing requirements for the UH-1N replacement, conducting market research, and developing UH-1N replacement acquisition alternatives.
Since 2015, nuclear weapons surety studies highlighted a critical requirement for the replacement of the current fleet of UH-1N helicopters supporting the nuclear mission. However, while there was no validated Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement (JUONS) associated with this requirement, a JUONS only applies to situations where U.S. military forces are actively engaged with enemy forces. Nevertheless, replacement of the helicopters performing the nuclear mission is now an urgent need based, in part, on the warning of the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command in an August 6, 2015, Memorandum to the Deputy Secretary of Defense and the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In February 2016, Congressional Quarterly reported that the Air Force’s UH-1N helicopters failed to meet the required standards in its most recent Mighty Guardian test exercise for ICBM security response capabilities. The amendment passed in the House requires the Air Force to replace the aging UH-1N helicopters that are unable to adequately perform nuclear protection missions.
In hearing testimony, Air Force officials stated that, in response to the concerns of operational commanders, the Air Force was considering a range of options to more quickly address the requirement for UH-1N replacement aircraft. These options included deployment of existing units to provide additional capability through a formal Request for Forces to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a possible use of an Economy Act (31 U.S.C. 1535) decision, based on an “urgent and compelling need,” to procure UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters through the Department of the Army. In this case, an Economy Act decision to opt out of a competition would potentially allow for a sole-source contract award exceeding $1.5 billion in value.
However, the Secretary of the Air Force may proceed with such a non-competitive award if the Secretary determines the statutory requirements for doing so are met. If an Economy Act decision is made, procurement of the UH-60M aircraft could begin in fiscal year 2017, which would require more funding than requested in the budget request. The FY17 budget request contained $14.1 million in Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation, Air Force, and $18.3 million in Aircraft Procurement, Air Force, for the UH-1N replacement program.
The Air Force planned a second request for proposal draft for the UH-1N replacement program after feedback from possible bidders that they couldn’t meet the original threshold requirements. The UH-1N Huey Replacement Program (FA8629-16-R-2507) Draft RFP feedback received from industry drove a need to release a second Draft RFP prior to release of the final RFP. The UH-1N Replacement team plans to release Draft RFP #2 in April 2017.
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