The Air Force is preparing to award a contract worth as much as $500 million over the next five years to provide training for its combat search and rescue personnel.
The job — dubbed aircrew training and rehearsal support II, or ATARS II — essentially will be a follow on to a $277-million, six-year award originally won in 2000 by Lockheed Martin Information Systems, of Orlando, Fla., said program manager Greg Riddle, in the Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
A total of 11 companies have expressed interest in the contract, Riddle told National Defense. Among them are Lockheed Martin; L-3 Communications, of New York City and Canada-based CAE.
The service plans to award the contract in August or September, with the work to start in January 2007, Riddle said. The winner will provide mission-qualification training and mission-rehearsal system hardware, software and courseware, including instructors, for Air Force special operations units at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.; Hurlburt Field, Fla., and Harrisburg, Pa.
The training will cover the MH53J/M Pave Low, UH-1N Huey and HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters; the CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, and several special-operations versions of the C-130 Hercules fixed-wing transport.
“Basically, the contract will be the same sustainment version that we currently have with Lockheed Martin, which is primarily for combat search-and-rescue mission rehearsals,” Riddle said.
The winning contractor will not provide new simulators but use 38 existing ones, which the Air Force has employed for years. “Some of those puppies are more than 15 years old,” he said.
The simulators run the gamut from ‘very simple desktop versions to full-bloom weapons trainers that provide the ultimate Disney ride in a duplicate of an aircraft cockpit,” Riddle said.
Plans for the contract may be complicated, however, by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley’s announcement in February that responsibility for most of his service’s active-duty combat search and rescue units will be transferred from the Air Force Special Operations Command, which is headquartered at Hurlburt Field, to the Air Combat Command, which is based at Langley Air Force Base, Va.
“That just dropped out of the sky on us,” Riddle said. “It looks like we’re going to get a fourth master.”
Currently, three commands — the U.S. Special Operations Command, AFSOC and the Air Force Air Education and Training Command — have a role in administering the ATARS contract, he explained. Now, it appears that the Air Combat Command also will join the management team.
Moseley said the change will ensure that combat search and rescue is directly linked to the combat air forces and the personnel they support, thus consolidating the management of limited Air Force resources.
Under ACC command, these assets can be mobilized faster during a national crisis, integrated into combat training and tasked to support all air and space expeditionary force rotations Moseley said.
The transfer is the second one in recent years for combat search and rescue. Those units were moved in 2003 from the Air Combat Command to the Air Force Special Operations Command because their missions, training and equipment seemed to be similar.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, however, air combat commanders complained that it sometimes could be difficult to get quick approval for search-and-rescue missions from Air Force special operations.
The transfer affects active-duty combat search-and-rescue personnel and their aircraft — primarily HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and HC-130P/N fixed-wing transports — based in the continental United States. Those units assigned to U.S. Air Forces Europe and Pacific, the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve are not affected.
Currently, combat search-and-rescue personnel make up more than a third of the Air Force Special Operations Command’s 19,000 active-duty, Reserve, Guard and civilian membership.
Plans for the ATARS II contract also could be complicated by the Air Force’s announcement in February that it plans to begin replacing the current fleet of HH-60G combat search-and-rescue helicopters with 141 new versions, called CSAR-X. Previously, it was known as the personnel recovery vehicle.
The service expects to begin purchasing CSAR-X in 2009, with delivery starting in 2011, said Lt. Col. Dave Morgan, a combat search-and-rescue program official.
“CSAR-X is a completely unknown aircraft,” Riddle said. “That’s a winner-take-all contract. The winner gets to build the sims too.”
The Air Force is looking for a larger helicopter with greater range than the HH-60G. Competitors include:
• A team led by Lockheed Martin, offering the US101 helicopter, an American-built version of AugustaWestland’s EH101 Eurocopter. The US101 was chosen recently to replace the current Marine One presidential helicopter.
• Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., of Stratford, Conn., with its H-92 Superhawk. The H-92 is an upgraded version of the H-60s series of helicopters, which includes the Pave Hawk.
• Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, of St. Louis, Mo., proposing the HH-47 CSAR-X tandem rotor aircraft. The HH-47 is a variant of the MH-47G special operations Chinook.