The Navy is moving ahead with a contest to build the next-generation "Marine One" White House helicopter, formally picking Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin to enter a head-to-head competition for the VXX program.
With a Federal Business Opportunities notice published Aug. 26, the Navy made official what observers inside and outside of the Pentagon had anticipated for months -- that the VXX program would be a contest between Sikorsky's S-92 and a U.S. version of the EH-101 (the US-101) to be developed by Lockheed, the British-Italian joint venture AgustaWestland, and Bell Helicopter Textron.
The existing "Marine One" VH-3D Sea Kings that transport President Bush while at home and abroad have grown old, prompting the White House to accelerate plans to replace those Sikorsky-made helicopters with VXX.
The Navy plans to issue a limited request for proposals to Sikorsky and Lockheed for the next phase of the VXX program, the notice says. The RFP will cover the VXX program's system development and demonstration (SDD) phase. The specific purpose of SDD is to design, develop, fabricate, integrate, manage, test and evaluate, demonstrate, and document the VXX system, the notice states.
Initial operational capability (IOC) for the VXX is scheduled for 2008. Until recently, the Navy and Marine Corps planned to field an initial replacement by 2009. But that was not fast enough for White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. Late last November, Card sent the Pentagon a memo, urging defense officials to accelerate efforts to replace the aging VH-3Ds, citing the post-Sept. 11 security environment and VH-3D performance deficiencies (Inside the Navy, Jan. 13, p1).
Further demonstrating its desire to have Sikorsky and Lockheed engaged in additional VXX work as quickly as possible, the Navy published two other notices Aug. 26, briefly announcing plans to have those two competitors perform additional risk-reduction work for the VXX program under existing contract agreements.
Sikorsky spokesman Scott Seligman said, "We're not surprised that the field is narrowing, because we expect it to narrow even further. The Sikorsky VH-92 is the safest and most advanced helicopter ever made. It's designed and manufactured here in America and represents by far the lowest-cost option available to the Pentagon for this
"We're pleased," said Stephen Moss, president of AgustaWestland, expressing confidence in the ability of the US-101 to meet VXX requirements. He told ITN the US-101 team is looking forward to the next phase of the program. Earlier this summer, in a press release, Stephen Ramsey, vice president of aerospace solutions at Lockheed Martin Systems Integration in Owego, NY, touted the US-101 as "a low risk, high performance answer for this important mission."
Notably absent from the Navy's announcements was the V-22 Osprey, the tiltrotor developed by Bell Helicopter Textron and Boeing. Earlier this year, Bell Helicopter and Boeing, the makers of the Osprey, participated in a study phase of the VXX program, as did Sikorsky and Lockheed. Of the three aircraft considered, the Osprey was the dark horse. But last week's RFP-related notice means the tiltrotor is no longer under consideration for VXX.
The Pentagon has not yet held a Defense Acquisition Board meeting for VXX, though earlier this year Naval Air Systems Command told ITN such a meeting would likely happen this summer.
It is still being determined whether the Office of the Secretary of Defense's acquisition chief, Michael Wynne, will have authority over the program or whether that authority would rest with the Navy's acquisition executive, John Young, said a Navy spokesman. -- Christopher J. Castelli