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Air Force to request new bids for copters

WASHINGTON — The Air Force will request new bids for a $15 billion contract awarded to Boeing Co. last November to replace 141 search-and-rescue helicopters used in combat.

The deal was put on hold after protests were filed by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp., the losing bidders.

In two sets of protests filed the past year and backed by the Government Accountability Office watchdog agency, the companies questioned the clarity of the Air Force's original requests for bids.

On Wednesday, the Air Force confirmed it had given revised drafts for bids to all three companies, which have just over a week to identify any problems.

The proposed revisions, experts say, mean that the contract winner could be someone other than Chicago-based Boeing because resubmitted bids will be permitted to make major changes on everything from price to helicopter specifications. However, the revisions fall short of reopening the competition. Boeing has several hundred employees in Utah.

Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne told members of the House Armed Services committee at a hearing Wednesday that the revised bids will be due in mid-November and the deal should be awarded in mid-February.

Dan Spoor, vice president for the helicopter program of Lockheed, based in Bethesda, Md., said the Air Force's changes are a positive development.

Paul Jackson, spokesman for Stratford, Conn.-based Sikorsky, said the company is currently evaluating the new request.