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Five Companies Drop Out Of USAF SAR Helicopter Competition

Potential Bidders Say Process Favors Sikorsky For 112 Aircraft Contract

Five major defense contractors have pulled out of an Air Force competition to produce 112 new SAR helicopters, saying the bidding process is unfair. But the Air Force says the requirements for the helicopter will drive the competition.

The companies that have said they will not offer bids include Northrop Grumman, which had teamed with Finmeccanica of Italy, the parent company of AgustaWestland; Boeing; Bell Helicopter; and American Eurocopter. The companies said that the way the Air Force had structured the bidding process would have required them to spend money in an effort that had little or no chance of producing a winning aircraft. EADS/Airbus had similar comments when Boeing won the contract to build the KC-45A tanker.

Reuters reports that a senior defense official not authorized to talk to the media said the Pentagon had insisted that the Air Force be specific about the requirements for the new helicopter, and let potential bidders know how valuable additional capabilities might be. Those who withdrew from the competition said that the requirements clearly favor Sikorsky's Black Hawk, and that any additional capabilities would not be enough to tip the scales in their favor.

The unnamed official said that the Defense Department was committed to open and transparent competitions, but with clearly defined requirements for the aircraft. He said no company had been pre-selected to build the helos.

The Pentagon does have policies in place to deal with a sole-source competition, but the Air Force has not yet said if it will change the bidding process in an effort to attract additional bids.

FMI: www.af.mil, www.dod.gov

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