The Air Force said Friday that it would reopen bidding on a multibillion-dollar contract -- initially awarded to Boeing Co. -- for combat search-and-rescue helicopters.
Clarifying statements made earlier this week, the Air Force said it planned to allow the original bidders to resubmit proposals for the contract, potentially worth $15 billion, to build 141 helicopters that would be used to rescue the crews of downed aircraft and transport special operations troops into hostile areas.
Boeing won the contract in November, a surprising outcome given that rivals Lockheed Martin Corp. and United Technologies Corp.'s Sikorsky unit were considered the leading contenders. The helicopter selected is a variant of the CH-47 Chinook.
The losing bidders immediately filed a protest. Last month the Government Accountability Office upheld the protest and recommended restarting the competition, citing what it considered inconsistencies in the evaluation of the proposals.
The Air Force, after initially balking at the GAO's findings, said Friday that it would issue an amended request for proposals after the GAO completed a full review, expected by mid-June.
The Air Force would then allow the "companies that made the bid for the original contract to resubmit their proposals," said Donald Manuszewski, an Air Force spokesman.
In a statement, Chicago-based Boeing said that any corrective action should not give the losing bidders "an undeserved second chance."
Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed declined to comment; Sikorsky could not be reached for comment.