McCain to probe Air Force's helicopter award

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a top member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is scrutinizing the Air Force’s contested search and rescue helicopter contract award to Boeing.  

In a letter to Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne, McCain, who is the panel’s ranking member, requested a series of documents related to the Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR-X) helicopter program, one of the Air Force’s priorities.  

Those documents, McCain said, would help the committee “track how and on what basis” the Air Force added requirements through “areas of special interest” that were not related to the original needs of the commanders on the battlefield.  

McCain was instrumental in thwarting a lease deal, which was deemed corrupt, between the Air Force and Boeing for midair refueling tankers several years ago. The CSAR-X contract award was widely considered the Air Force’s first real test after the tanker deal went sour.  

“From the information available, I am concerned about the possibility that what arose from a requirement for a medium-lift personnel recovery vehicle resulted in a contract award for a system that provides a very different capability,” McCain wrote to Wynne this week. 

Late last year, the Air Force awarded the contract to Boeing, which offered a modified version of its time-tested, heavy-lift Chinook helicopter. Two other competitors in the program, Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin, offered the HH-92 and the US 101, respectively.

Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin filed separate protests with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which recommended that the Air Force reopen the competition for the $15 billion program. The Air Force has since decided to follow that recommendation.