Sikorsky‘s [UTX] HH-92 helicopter offering for the Air Force’s combat search-and-rescue (CSAR-X) helicopter replacement program will bring savings to the service in fuel, maintenance and related costs, company officials said yesterday.

“We are looking to capitalize on a civil aviation heritage of low cost and high reliability,” Sikorsky Vice President Joe Haddock told sister publication Defense Daily. “That’s our sweet spot.”

Other Sikorsky officials said the aircraft has minimal maintenance requirements and can be transported by via fixed-wing cargo aircraft “just by folding the blades.”

“It takes the best of efficiencies in maintenance in the civilian world…and combines that with the best of the survivability in our military products,” said Michael Farage, a retired Air Force major general who is director of U.S. Air Force programs at Sikorsky.

The contractors submitted their latest proposals in January. Boeing, which submitted its HH-47 platform, initially won the contract for 141 aircraft in November 2006. Lockheed Martin, which is proposing its HH-71, and Sikorsky twice filed protests with the Government Accountability Office, forcing the Air Force to reopen the competition. The GAO sustained the second protest in August 2007. As a result, the program experienced a 9-12 month delay in contract award and a likely slip of Initial Operating Capability from fourth quarter of FY 2012 to fourth quarter of FY 2013.

Sikorsky’s protest was filed on the basis of how the Air Force calculated life-cycle costs.

“We can say that there are substantial cost savings here for the Air Force,” said Sikorsky Vice President John Pacelli. “That is a big part of the reason why we felt so strongly about continuing with…this competition.”

Boeing and Lockheed Martin officials have recently said that the only changes they are considering for their final CSAR-X offers to the Air Force are to their cost estimates (Defense Daily, Aug. 4, Aug. 7).

The Sikorsky officials confirmed that they are adding a fifth blade, as well as a 40-inch “plug” on the aircraft’s tail intended to enhance performance. Farrage said these changes are upgrades that had originally been intended for the future Block 10 version of the aircraft.

“Because of all the time since the protest, we said why not go ahead and make some of the improvements we anticipated making down the road,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sikorsky and its competitors are all preparing for a final Air Force debriefing on the competition later this month.

The Air Force late last month wrapped up a question-and-answer period that it will use to refine its request for proposals (RFP) for the $15 billion competition. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky are each expected to receive an interim evaluation briefing from Air Force acquisition officials to discuss the final RFP (Defense Daily, Aug. 4).

The Air Force briefing, which will include information on mission capability, proposal risk, past performance, and cost/price factors, is now expected to take place in mid- September, according to the Sikorsky officials.

“Based on that slip, we don’t really expect a contract award prior to October,” said Pacelli.

The briefing was initially anticipated later this month (Defense Daily, Aug. 4).

Further, the Pentagon Inspector General is still investigating possible selection process irregularities, and service and Pentagon acquisition officials remain focused on resolving the KC-X aerial refueling tanker acquisition, another contested contract (Defense Daily, July 11). Both issues, as well as the coming change of administrations, could delay the CSAR-X award.

The Air Force last month wrapped up a question-and-answer period that it will use to refine its request for proposals (RFP). The service has said it would still like to award a contract this fall.

Asked whether discussions with the Air Force since their protest have been fruitful, the Sikorsky officials said they have experienced “better communication” with the service and are hopeful that a fair decision will be made.