Lawmakers have requested the Air Force submit reports to Congress regarding its ongoing Combat Rescue Helicopter program, with a fielding plan for the new Sikorsky [LMT] HH-60W aircraft.
The fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), released Dec. 9, includes a provision for the service to submit a fielding plan on the Combat Rescue Helicopter within 45 days of the bill’s passage. The provision was originally included in the Senate version of the NDAA.
The aircraft, which will replace the service’s aging HH-60G Pave Hawk search-and-rescue helicopters, have suffered schedule delays, and lawmakers request that the Air National Guard retain additional HH–60G helicopters at Air National Guard locations “to meet their recommended primary aircraft authorized (PAA) per the Air Force’s June 2018 report on Air National Guard HH–60 requirements” in the report.
Sikorsky is on contract to deliver nine test aircraft under the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contract, along with five system demonstration test article (SDTA) platforms, along with one airframe systems trainer. The service declared Milestone C and approved the start of low-rate initial production in September (Defense Daily, Sept. 25). It has expressed a desire to procure up to 113 new airframes for a total of $7 billion.
In the meantime, the service also acquired 21 UH-60L airframes and performed modifications to convert the helicopters into Pave Hawks under the HH-60G Operational Loss Replacement (OLR) program. The effort aims to restore the Pave Hawk fleet to its authorized size and beef up Air National Guard rescue units that had lost airframes over the past two decades.
But the conference report notes that the OLR program suffered delivery delays, and the Combat Rescue Helicopter program similarly underwent some schedule delays. Sikorsky worked to address program deficiencies laid out in the 2018 Director of Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) report and shaved five months back off the schedule (Defense Daily, June 25).
According to the bill, the report should include a description of the differences between the outgoing HH-60G Pave Hawk, the Operational Loss Replacement aircraft and the ultimate CRH platforms, the bill language said.
Lawmakers also want to know more about the costs and risks associated with changing the fielding plan to reduce or eliminate inventory shortfalls, and any possible means to speed up the program within the current contract. Details on operational risks and benefits associated with fielding the CRH are also requested.
The NDAA also requests that the Air Force supply a report on Combat Rescue Helicopter reserve training, including the number of legacy HH-60G/OLR helicopters that are required to continue qualification training for the 150th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.
In terms of funding, the final NDAA bill includes $876 million in procurement dollars for 12 Combat Rescue Helicopters, about $8.2 million more than the Air Force requested and the Senate authorized, and $200,000 less than the House authorized, citing “excess to need.” The conference bill authorized about $247 million in research, development, technology and evaluation funds for the program, mirroring the Air Force’s request.