The Air Force, as promised, released its second draft request for proposal (RFP) for its UH-1N replacement program on Thursday.

Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Emily Grabowski said in statement that the service remained committed to having its final RFP out this summer and a contract award in fiscal year 2018. The service still plans to deliver its first operational helicopter in fiscal year 2020-2021.

Grabowski said the second draft RFP implements the amended acquisition strategy allowing interested offerors to conduct non-developmental integration (NDI) on their baseline aircraft in order to meet requirements. The second draft RFP, she said, also includes source selection criteria for a tradeoff evaluation. The Air Force will evaluate the technical capability/risk of the offeror’s approach and evaluate the price of the proposals to arrive at a best value decision.

The Air Force wants to replace the nuclear mission performed by Bell Helicopter's UH-1N helicopter. Photo: Air Force.
The Air Force wants to replace the nuclear mission performed by Bell Helicopter’s UH-1N helicopter. Photo: Air Force.

Europe’s Airbus seems to be leaning toward not bidding for the UH-1N replacement. Company spokesman James Darcy said Thursday though the company is currently completing a thorough evaluation of the latest draft RFP, it is “hard to imagine,” based on the previous draft RFP, that there is a competitive business case under which Airbus would bid.

Darcy said Airbus continues to advocate for a two aircraft solution, but the Air Force, he said, seems predisposed not only to a single-aircraft solution but to a solution that closely resembles a UH-60, the incumbent aircraft developed by Lockheed Martin’s [LMT] Sikorsky unit. Darcy said Airbus, for years, has advocated its two aircraft solution of the service breaking up its requirement for intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) security and VIP transportation in the Washington region.

ICBM security, he said, is much more expensive than VIP transportation and a two-aircraft solution would allow the Air Force to offset the much more expensive ICBM security mission with the less robust VIP transportation mission.

Lexington Institute think tank Chief Operating Officer Loren Thompson said Thursday that it is amazing how long the Air Force has taken to recapitalize its tired fleet of Vietnam era UH-1N helicopters. He called both UH-1N missions strategic: protection of missile fields and continuity of government in a national emergency.

Potential bidders for the UH-1N replacement include Boeing [BA], Sikorsky, and Bell Helicopter Textron [TXT]. Boeing announced in March it would team with Italy’s Leonardo to offer the MH-139, a variant based on Leonardo’s AW139 multi-mission helicopter. Boeing will serve as prime with Leonardo serving as subcontractor.

Sikorsky will offerthe HH-60U Black Hawk. The company said in March three HH-60Us were already in Air Force inventory. Air Force pilots and special mission aviators began flying the HH-60U in 2011.

Bell Helicopter Textron in early March was mulling over whether to bid for the UH-1N replacement. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday. The company has the UH-1Y “Venom,” AH-1Z “Viper” and the Bell 407, 429 and 505 Jet Ranger X commercial helicopters currently in development. The Bell 525 Relentless helicopter is currently still in development, but the company is building flight test vehicles.

Thompson said if the Air Force runs the UH-1N replacement as a lowest price competition, as he said it seems to do, it will be sorry with the results. He said every competition the Air Force seems to run, from a new bomber, new tanker or new trainer, lowest price seems to be the sole criterion for judging who should win. Thompson said if the Air Force continues this trend, he believes the Boeing-Leonardo MH-139 offering would be the lowest price offering, but not necessarily the best.

The Air Force did not return requests for comment Thursday. The service is looking to procure 84 aircraft. The final contract award could be in the area of $800 to $900 million.