Funding for the combat rescue helicopter program was included in the federal spending bill released Monday. (1st Lt Sarah Ruckriegle/Air Force)
WASHINGTON — The Air Force’s replacement for the long-running Pave Hawk helicopter is slated to receive funds under a massive spending bill unveiled Monday night.
The combat rescue helicopter (CRH) receives $333,558,000 as a “congressional special interest item,” in a move that gives some life to a program that even top Air Force officials have acknowledged is needed, but not a top priority.
“These helicopters need to be replaced,” the bill reads. “However, in a period of fiscal austerity, the program must be affordable to ensure that it is not canceled due to insufficient funding in future years.”
“Prior to any decision to terminate the CRH program due to insufficient funding in future years, the Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force are directed to review the threshold and objective requirements as established in the capability development document and to review alternative acquisition strategies using cost-benefit analysis in order to establish an affordable program,” the language of the bill continues. “The Secretary of the Air Force is directed to brief the outcome of this review to the congressional defense committees.”
It is good news for a program that has seemed out of reach. In November, sister publication Defense News reported that the CRH program may not be funded under the Air Force’s FY 2015 budget, with Eric Fanning, then acting secretary of the Air Force, indicating funding would remain an issue for the platform.
“It’s an important platform with a lot of support, but it will be very difficult because of how little money there is for new starts in the coming year,” Fanning said. “I’m hard-pressed to imagine we can afford to start that soon based on the sequestration numbers and mechanics.”
However, members of Congress have since rallied around the platform, with 74 congressmen issuing a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in support of the CRH.
The CRH program is the Defense Department’s second attempt in the past decade to replace its heavily used Sikorsky-built Pave Hawk helicopters, some of which have been performing military and civil rescue operations since 1982. The Air Force wants to buy 112 new helicopters, at a maximum cost of $6.8 billion, for the combat search-and-rescue mission.
Despite the Air Force publicly calling for an open competition, the only bidder for the program was Sikorsky, teamed with Lockheed Martin. Three other competitors dropped out, citing restrictive cost requirements. The service officially selected Sikorsky in late November.