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USAF To Award Combat Rescue Helo Contract This Year

WASHINGTON -- The US Air Force will award a contract on its new Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH) before the end of June, despite the program not being included in the fiscal 2015 budget request.

The announcement was made by Maj. Gen. James Martin during the service's budget briefing at the Pentagon.

The service will realign around $430 million from other Air Force in the next five years for the program. While the program is not funded in the FY 2015 budget request, Martin said the service will roll over some of the roughly $334 million provided by Congress as part of the fiscal 2014 budget in order to award the contract.

The choice to fund CRH was apparently one that came down to the wire. Martin said he was just informed of the decision before entering the briefing.

The CRH program is the Air Force's latest attempt to modernize its combat search-and-rescue fleet. The Air Force wants to buy 112 new helicopters to replace the aging Sikorsky Pave Hawks. In late November, the service said it would select Sikorsky if it can award a contract.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James spent part of a trip last week inspecting the older Pave Hawk fleet, and it is possible that affected her decision to back the program.

"Moving forward with the CRH contract award protects a good competitive price and effectively uses the $334 million Congress appropriated for the program," James said in a service statement released Tuesday evening.

The award is a big win for the team of Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin, whose design was selected late last year. Sikorsky's price bid was expected to expire at the end of March, but a company official said the service has asked the firm to extend and update its pricing through the end of June, with the expectation that a contract will be awarded in that time period.

"Sikorsky and our teammate Lockheed Martin thank the U. S. Air Force for enabling us to build a modern and affordable combat rescue helicopter that will replace the service's rapidly aging HH-60G Pave Hawk fleet," a Sikorsky spokesman said in a statement. "We are honored to be part of the sacred mission of leaving no combatant of the U.S. armed forces or its allies behind on the battlefield."

"The competitive price and the funding provided by Congress will allow us to award the CRH contract, but we could still face significant challenges to keeping this effort on track," James said in the statement. "We will need to work with Congress throughout 2015 budget deliberations, and if the FY16 DoD budget drops back to sequestration levels, this program, along with many others, will need to be re-evaluated."