As anticipated, Lockheed Martin Corp’s Sikorsky unit filed an official protest with the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), which partner Boeing has supported. The aerospace firm has sought a review of the United States Army’s decision to award a contract for its next-generation helicopter – replacement for the current UH-60 Black Hawk – which was awarded earlier this month to Textron Inc’s Bell unit.
The Army’s selection of the Bell V-280 Valor had been seen as controversial as the tiltrotor aircraft beat out Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky and Boeing’s jointly developed Defiant X, which features coaxial rotor blades. Both aircraft were designed to fit into the same footprint as the Black Hawk.
“Based on a thorough review of the information and feedback provided by the Army, Lockheed Martin Sikorsky, on behalf of Team DEFIANT, is challenging the FLRAA decision. The data and discussions lead us to believe the proposals were not consistently evaluated to deliver the best value in the interest of the Army, our Soldiers, and American taxpayers,” the two companies said in a statement.
A Big Deal
Such protests are not unusual, and this one was practically expected, given that the contract for the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) could be worth around $70 billion depending on the total number of helicopters the Army eventually procures. According to the Army, it is now looking to retire more than 2,000 medium-class UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, which have been the workhorse of the service since the platform was introduced in the 1970s.
However, the initial deal is still worth up to $1.3 billion, as the FLRAA will not serve as a one-to-one replacement for those existing aircraft. In addition, the engineering and manufacturing development and the low-rate production phase could be worth roughly $7 billion, Defense News first reported.
If the full complement of aircraft is purchased across the entire life of the fleet, then it could be worth $70 billion – including potential foreign military sales.
Just after the award announcement, Douglas Bush, the assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, told reporters that the service’s FLRAA schedule already had “accounted” for such a protest.
The filing of a protest by the two aerospace giants will trigger a formal legal review from the GAO, while a decision will be made within the next 100 days, which would be April 7, 2023. The congressional watchdog agency often works to resolve cases as quickly as possible.
The U.S. Army has acknowledged Sikorsky’s decision to file for protest and will comply with GAO’s requirements, the U.S. Army Program Executive Office – Aviation said via a statement to the media on Wednesday.
Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said on Wednesday that he also supported the decision by Sikorsky to file the contract protest. The Lockheed Martin subsidiary is headquartered in Stratford, Connecticut, and currently has around 13,000 employees.
“I fully support the company’s decision to request an independent review regarding how the decision to award this contract was conducted,” Governor Lamont said via a statement. “I remain confident that Sikorsky is the best and most capable company to deliver this next-generation aircraft to the U.S. Army and that Connecticut’s exceptionally skilled workforce is the best trained in the country to manufacture this aircraft. A thorough evaluation of the process and each of the proposals is in the best interests of the military and the American taxpayers.”
CH-53K Helicopter Reaches Full-Rate Production
Sikorsky also announced this week that the U.S. Navy declared full rate production of its CH-53K helicopter. This decision is expected to increase production to more than 20 helicopters annually in the coming years.
“Ramping up production of the most technologically advanced helicopter in the world allows the U.S. Marine Corps to build out its CH-53K King Stallion fleet and support mission success,” explained Bill Falk, director of the Sikorsky CH-53K program. “This production authorization stabilizes Sikorsky’s domestic supply chain and is a testament to our enduring partnership with the Marine Corps.”
The United States Marine Corps approved acquisition objective is 200 aircraft.