Sikorsky loses out on Army $1.3 billion Black Hawk replacement contract

Alexander Soule

Connecticut Post, Bridgeport


Dec. 6—Connecticut-based Sikorsky lost out on a $1.3 billion contract to produce an aircraft that the Army envisions would replace its fleet of Black Hawk helicopters, failing to win over Pentagon brass with its Defiant-X prototype in partnership with Boeing. The contract was instead awarded to Texas-based Bell, which aims to produce its own V-280 Valor tilt-rotor aircraft.

Recognizing the long-term importance of the Black Hawk replacement program to the Connecticut economy, the Connecticut General Assembly authorized incentives for Sikorsky if it landed the deal. Gov. Ned Lamont called the outcome “disappointing” for Sikorsky and parent company Lockheed Martin, which had more than 8,000 employees in Connecticut at last report in Stratford, Bridgeport, Shelton and Trumbull.

“Sikorsky is a legacy Connecticut company with one of the best trained workforces in the world, and while leadership takes the time to review their bid to understand more about the Army’s decision, we stand behind them and their employees,” Lamont said in a statement. “The state will continue to work closely with Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky to secure future opportunities for the people of Connecticut to make the most advanced aircraft in the skies.”

Sikorsky and Boeing have the option of challenging the award if they find flaws in the Pentagon’s underlying methodology for choosing the Bell V-280 Valor, which takes off vertically before swiveling its rotor sets forward to fly like a conventional airplane, similar to the V-22 Osprey used by the U.S. Marine Corps.

Sikorsky mounted a successful challenge 15 years ago after the Pentagon awarded Boeing a big contract for a new fleet of search-and-rescue helicopters, with Sikorsky successfully arguing that the Pentagon applied inconsistent criteria for evaluating maintenance costs of the rival aircraft. Sikorsky would go on to win the contract, with those helicopters now being built in Stratford.

“We are honored that the U.S. Army has selected the Bell V-280 Valor as its next-generation assault aircraft,” said Scott Donnelly, CEO of Bell parent Textron based in Providence, R.I. “We intend to honor that trust by building a truly remarkable and transformational weapon system to meet the Army’s mission requirements.”

Sikorsky officials had touted its Defiant-X design as being more maneuverable, and able to overcome the V-280 Valor’s speed advantage by being able to land and take off quickly in hostile zones.

“We remain confident [Defiant-X] is the transformational aircraft the U.S. Army requires to accomplish its complex missions today and well into the future,” a joint statement from Sikorsky and Boeing stated on Monday evening. “We will evaluate our next steps after reviewing feedback from the Army.”

Sikorsky and Bell are also vying to produce a new armed scout helicopter for the Army, with Bell offering a traditional helicopter dubbed Invictus, and Sikorsky offering a helicopter that has stacked, counter-rotating rotor sets as with the Defiant-X design.

The Black Hawk replacement was the vastly larger program, with Sikorsky having built more than 4,000 Black Hawks and variant helicopters since the 1970s. The company expects several decades more work upgrading those helicopters as the next generation of utility aircraft is constructed under the Pentagon’s “Future Vertical Lift” program.

Sikorsky has begun production on a fleet of 200 CH-53K helicopters for the U.S. Marines, and is also building a new fleet of helicopters for the White House. But company officials had suggested a year ago and since that a loss of the Army’s Future Long Range Assault Aircraft program would likely result in a lower employment base in Connecticut over the long run. In November 2021, Sikorsky President Paul Lemmo went so far as to call the decision “existential” to Sikorsky’s long-term future.

In a statement, the U.S. Army’s assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology called the decision process “thoughtful and disciplined”, with a decision having originally been expected by July.


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