Final RFP issued in search for Huey replacement, including those at Malmstrom

The process to replace the UH-1N Huey helicopters used for security at nuclear missile sites, including Malmstrom Air Force Base, is now open for bids.

The final request for proposals was released earlier this month, after several delays and drafts. Potential bidders have until the August to submit their proposals.

The Air Force plans to award the contract for the order of 84 helicopters in the spring of 2018 with initial operational fielding beginning in fiscal year 2020 or 2021, after a period of developmental and operations tests, according to Capt. Emily Grabowski, an Air Force spokeswoman. The federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

The program is capped at $4.1 billion and includes production and sustainment transition support, Grabowski said.

The new helicopters would replace those used for security in the missile complexes of Malmstrom, F.E. Warren and Minot AFBs and also VIP transport in the D.C. region.

A team from Boeing-Leonardo brought the MH-139 to Great Falls as a static display for the airshow and demonstration flights.

The civilian model of the helicopter is manufactured by Leonardo and Boeing militarized the aircraft to create the proposed replacement for the Huey from the partnership of the two companies.

The Boeing-Leonardo has not yet submitted their formal proposal, but plans to do so.

Sikorsky, now part of Lockheed Martin, also plans to offer the HH-60U, a varient of the UH-60M Black Hawk.

The Air Force already has the Black Hawk in its fleet and Sikorsky believes it will meet the Air Force’s requirements for the Huey replacement.

“We are confident it will provide the best solution for the Air Force’s critical missile site and utility support missions,” said David Morgan, manager of U.S. Air Force business development at Sikorsky.

The Air Force had initially tried to sole source the Black Hawk to replace the Huey, but after congressional pushback and further consideration, decided to pursue a competitive bid process.

Some members of the Montana delegation opposed that decision, including Republicans Sen. Steve Daines and Ryan Zinke, who left his seat as Montana’s lone representative to become the Secretary of Interior.

The Daines camp views the recent RFP as a sign of progress, but that it’s unfortunate that the strategy means the new helicopter won’t be fielded until at least 2021. Daines was a strong supported of using Black Hawks, especially since the Montana Army National Guard already uses them. He also helped get a $75 million increase to President Obama’s FY 2017 budget request to help speed the Huey replacement.

Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, has been supportive of the competitive process and one that gets “the best possible equipment at the fairest cost to taxpayers,” he said in a statement to The Electric.

“We need to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently and that means deploying these replacement aircraft without further delay,” Tester said. “Doing so would support the men and women who protect our missile fleet every day and ensure we are taking the necessary steps to make our nation more safe.”

Lauren Slepian, Leonardo spokeswoman, said the MH-139 can carry nine fully armored security forces members and can fly for three hours without refueling, as required by the Air Force’s RFP.

It’s 50 percent faster, with 30 percent more cabin space and able to carry 5,000 pounds more than the Huey, said Jerry Drelling, a Boeing spokesman.

The MH-139 is not a combat helicopter, but is designed for the nuclear security mission, Drelling said.

The MH-139 is also capable of carrying litters, for medevac missions and will be able to perform search and rescue operations, as the Hueys flown by the 40th Helicopter Squadron currently do.

Jim Krueger, a test pilot for Boeing who flew media around Great Falls on Monday, said the MH-139 is able to handle high winds like those common in the Malmstrom missile complex. Krueger served on active duty for 29 years flying Chinooks and Hueys and said the MH-139 is an improved aircraft with 50 years worth of technological advances.

“The Huey’s a great helicopter for its time,” he said. “The Huey is raw flying. This is a step up.”

The Huey is manufactured by Bell Helicopter and that company has not yet responded to The Electric regarding the replacement program.