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Sikorsky has filed a protest with the GAO Monday after discussions with USAF about its program to replace the UH-1N, ​as seen above preparing to land and drop off 790th Missile Security Forces Squadron Tactical Response Force airmen April 14, 2016, around F.E. W​arren AFB, Wyo. USAF photo by SrA. Brandon Valle.

Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, filed a pre-award protest with the Government Accountability Office on Monday, following discussions with the Air Force over its UH-1N Huey Replacement program.

Sikorsky’s concerns are related in part to intellectual property rights. USAF has in recent years insisted on “owning the technical baseline” on contracts so that it is free to compete future upgrades to the best offeror, and is not permanently required to stick with the original prime contractor. But Sikorsky says the service is "overreaching."

“The positions taken by the Air force are inconsistent with the [request for proposal] and contrary to law. Those positions would require relinquishment of rights by our suppliers in privately developed software and technical data, even where that data was developed at private expense,” Steve Callaghan, Sikorsky vice president of strategy and business development, told Air Force Magazine via email. “This protest is about fairness and protecting private investment in intellectual property."

Filing a protest in the middle of source selection is highly unusual. Typically, contractors register objections to the methodology of a competition before it is officially launched or after a winner is selected and the loser is briefed on why its offering was deemed inferior. The company said it exhausted all other options before filing with the GAO, including an agency-level protest and multiple discussions with the Air Force, but felt it had no other choice.

The GAO has until May 23 to make a decision and the Air Force is now prohibited from awarding a contract until the protest is resolved.

The service’s Fiscal 2019 budget, which was released on Monday, includes $8.88 million to continue a service life extension program for a portion of the UH-1N fleet, which is tasked with guarding the nation’s missile fields. Overall, USAF plans to conduct a SLEP on up to 63 aircraft that will enable the 45-plus-year-old helicopters to continue operating until a replacement can be fielded, according to budget documents. The Air Force requested $12 million in Fiscal 2018 and $21.8 million in Fiscal 2017 for the UH-1N SLEP.

“This contract is critical to our national security. The Air Force is already years late in replacing the Huey fleet. The problems with the current requirements, if not amended, could result in further delays in replacing aircraft operating under waiver today at a volatile and dangerous time in our history,” said Callaghan. “We are seeking a fair RFP that complies with law and regulation that can obtain the Air Force’s true requirement—an off-the-shelf aircraft that meets all of the Air Force’s technical requirements. Specifically we are seeking an RFP that: 1)  Removes ambiguity; 2)  Defines unbounded requirements before contract award; 3)  Fully complies with DFARs with respect to TDP and software requirements.”  

The Air Force could not immediately be reached for comment.​