WASHINGTON Jan 4 The U.S. Air Force on Friday
declined to confirm that it had received only one bid for a $6.8
billion helicopter competition that closed on Thursday, saying
that information was "source selection sensitive."
All but one of the contractors expected to bid to build a
new combat search and rescue helicopters for the Air Force
announced last month that they would not compete, raising the
prospect that the Air Force would have to adopt a different
approach to the acquisition program.
Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp
, did submit a bid for the competition, based on its H-60
helicopter, according to a company spokesman. Other potential
competitors confirmed that they had decided to skip the bidding,
and at least one of the companies said it was exploring a
possible legal challenge to the terms of the competition.
Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick declined to say how many
companies had submitted bids by the Jan. 3 deadline or whether
the Air Force had already initiated steps to reflect that the
procurement would now come from a sole source.
"We cannot release as the information is source selection
sensitive," he told Reuters in an emailed statement.
Gulick said the Air Force remained "committed to a fair,
open and transparent process" to pick a new, affordable Combat
Rescue Helicopter (CRH) that met the military's requirements.
"To ensure this occurs, we are prohibited from releasing
information while in the request for proposal and selection
processes. Once we select and announce the final contractor we
will be able to openly discuss the details of the CRH program,"
he said in an emailed statement.
Lieutenant General Charles Davis, the top military official
in charge of Air Force acquisition, told Reuters in an interview
last month that the helicopter competition was structured to
tell potential bidders exactly what capabilities the Air Force
wanted and what it could afford.
He denied that the terms of the competition had been written
to favor the Black Hawk helicopter built by Sikorsky, and said
Sikorsky would be asked to submit certified cost and pricing
data if it turned out to be the sole bidder for the program.
A Sikorsky spokesman said the company was aware that it
could be asked to provide such data if no other bids came in.
Lockheed Martin Corp is a key subcontractor on the
Boeing, Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron Inc, EADS
and Northrop Grumman Corp teamed with
AgustaWestland, a unit of Italy's Finmeccanica SpA,
announced last month that they would not bid for the work.
At the time, industry executives said the bidding rules were
so narrowly framed that they effectively excluded all but
Sikorsky's Black Hawk helicopter from the competition, and would
not reward extra capability offered by other aircraft.
Davis last month said that the Air Force had already drawn
up plans for how to handle the procurement if only one company
submitted a bid, although he said the service would have
preferred to have a competitive process with more bidders.
He said the Air Force's move away from more "nebulous" and
"open-ended" procurements was a positive thing for industry,
allowing companies to make more informed decisions about whether
to spend money preparing a bid for a given competition.
He said the change toward more narrowly-defined requirements
for military equipment was a result of multiple protests filed
by companies in recent years that challenged the more open and
subjective way procurements were structured in the past.
Boeing won the Air Force's last rescue helicopter
competition with its H-47 helicopter, only to see the $15
billion contract after several protests by losing bidders.
"This is clearly a result of all of the issues that have
accumulated over the years of all of these high visibility
protests," he said. As a result, the Air Force was now being
more diligent in how it structured its acquisition programs.
"The bottom line is this is a good news story," he told
Reuters in December.