Defense Media Network

Air Force Ponders Black Hawk Plan for Common Vertical Lift Support Platform Program

Under a proposal now being debated in the Pentagon, the Air Force would take advantage of an obscure 1932 law to permit a no-bid, $3 billion purchase of 93 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters from the U.S. Army.

The Economy Act of 1932 permits one military service branch to purchase equipment from another without competitive bidding, providing the purchaser can meet a regulatory requirement to show that the item “cannot be obtained as conveniently or economically by contracting directly with a private source.”

The Air Force is also receiving a handful of “new build” UH-60Ms. The helicopters will replace some of the service’s 101 HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters and may eventually fulfill the needs of the Common Vertical Lift Support Platform (CVLSP) program, replacing the current fleet of 62 UH-1N Twin Huey rotorcraft. UH-1Ns are used for VIP transport, emergency evacuation of government officials in the Washington area, and for support of the nation’s ICBM silos in the American heartland.

The UH-60M Black Hawk upgrade has a digital avionics suite, allowing pilots to perform safer and more efficiently. Photo by J.D. Leipold.

As recently as December 2009, the Air Force posted a “sources sought” notice that listed the attributes it wanted, then, in a CVLSP aircraft: The UH-1N replacement would need to lift 3,194 pounds, including four crew members, nine passengers, and mission equipment, and would be able to fly up to 3 hours without refueling at speeds up to 135 knots. The notice also indicated the Air Force wanted a helicopter that could survive if struck by 7.62-mm bullets like those fired by the AK-47 rifle. The Black Hawk greatly exceeds these capabilities. Several manufacturers have offered aircraft closer in size to both the UH-1N and the requirements listed in the notice, the most visible being Agusta Westland USA with its AW 139 helicopter and Eurocopter with its EC145 (already used by the U.S. Army as the UH-72A Lakota).

“I think it’s in everyone’s interest – the warfighter, the taxpayer, industry – to have competition,” said Dan Hill, Agusta Westland USA’s vice president of strategic and federal business development, in a Nov. 17 telephone interview. Hill said the AW 139 was “designed from day one to replace the Huey.”

Air Force and Sikorsky officials did not respond to a request for comment. The Army is purchasing about 74 Black Hawk series helicopters per year, at a cost of about $19 million each, in a multiyear arrangement that is projected to run through 2015.


Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...