The Air Force anticipates a final decision in the April-May timeframe on how to move forward with the UH-1N replacement program, including approval of the program’s acquisition strategy, according to a service spokeswoman.

The Air Force requested nearly $32 million for UH-1N replacement in its fiscal year 2017 budget request, $18 million in procurement funding and $14 million in research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) funds. Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said Monday this includes long-lead government furnished equipment in support of future year aircraft production. This year’s request, she added, also provides procurement of production engineering support, ground support equipment, publications and technical data and program management activities that support program execution.

Bell Helicopter's UH-1N helicopter. Photo: Air Force.
Bell Helicopter’s UH-1N helicopter. Photo: Air Force.

The Air Force decided for FY ’17 that it would no longer consider modifying in-service helicopters as a part of UH-1N replacement, according to budget documents. The service said it assumed in FY ’16 that the UH-1N replacement solution was likely to involve modification of in-service aircraft, but said in its FY ’17 request that following “subsequent analysis of this assumption and other programmatic options,” the service determined this solution was “sub-optimal.” To reflect this, the Air Force, in its FY ’17 request, moved its UH-1N replacement request to the “aircraft procurement” appropriation instead of “modification of in-service aircraft,” where it was filed last year.

The Air Force anticipates requesting $2.5 billion over the life of the UH-1N replacement program to purchase 72 aircraft, a dramatic increase over the $980 million the Air Force expected in its FY ’16 request to spend over the life of the program. The Air Force anticipates requesting $171 million in FY ’18 to purchase four aircraft and $224 million in FY ’19 to purchase six aircraft as its ramps up procurement of the aircraft.

The UH-1N is a light-lift utility helicopter used to support various missions, including airlift of emergency security forces, security and surveillance of off-base nuclear weapon convoys and distinguished visitor airlift. Other uses include: disaster response operations, search and rescue, medical evaluation, airborne cable inspections, support to aircrew survival school, aerial testing and routine missile site support and transport.

The Air Force is considering splitting off the missile field requirement from the UH-1N replacement, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements Lt. Gen. Mike Holmes said Thursday at an Air Force Association event in Arlington, Va. Holmes said the Air Force’s decision whether to keep the missile field requirement will play in its acquisition strategy.

Former Air Force vice chief of staff, retired Gen. Larry Spencer, said Monday the service could be considering splitting off the missile field requirement in an attempt to get aircraft for that requirement faster, due to the high priority of the overall nuclear mission. Spencer, who is currently the head of the Air Force Association, said protecting the nuclear assets is the UH-1N’s “most important priority.” But Spencer also said he thought splitting off the missile field requirement would make the UH-1N replacement buy more complicated.

The Air Force expects the UH-1N replacement solution to undergo qualification and operational test and evaluation (OT&E) in the fiscal year 2019-20 timeframe to validate the aircraft’s operational performance, effectiveness and suitability. The Air Force also expects to enter the acquisition process at Milestone C and contract for this program no later than the end of third quarter FY ’17.

Another key milestone includes a January 2018 contract award for the first lot of four aircraft, with a delivery date of January 2019. The Air Force expects the unit price for this first lot of aircraft to be $20 million.