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In Sikorsky’s $938M helicopter award, billions more at stake

U.S. Army aircrew members walk from two Washington National Guard Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawks at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, Aug. 1, 2018. In the wake of Washington State Governor Jay Inslee declaring a wildfire state of emergency July 31, two Blackhawk helicopters launched from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, to Fairchild AFB to fight the wildfire dubbed “The Sheep Creek Fire,” which has consumed more than 20-acres of land so far. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Tech. Sgt. Michael Brown)

Sikorsky Aircraft received a $938 million contract to design an armed reconnaissance helicopter for the U.S. Army, with four other manufacturers in the running to field a replacement for the mothballed Kiowa scout helicopter.

The government of India is seeking approval from the U.S. government to purchase two dozen Seahawk helicopters at a total contract value as high as $2.6 billion.

And the aviation industry comes together in less than two months at the biennial Paris Air Show, where helicopter makers often time announcements on big contracts to generate extra attention.

The Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft program could means billions of dollars in sales for the winning contractor, with Sikorsky having its main production plant in Stratford as a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin.

Boeing, Sikorsky’s partner developing the SB>1 Defiant prototype under the U.S. Department of Defense’s Future Vertical Lift competition for an adaptable helicopter prototype to varying missions, is competing on its own for the new FARA program.

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Textron subsidiary Bell Helicopter is also a FARA entrant, with the manufacturer having produced some 2,200 OH-58 Kiowa helicopters and variants over a 45-year period. Also readying bids are startups Karem Aircraft of Lake Forest, Calif.; and AVX Aircraft, located in Bell’s backyard in Fort Worth, Texas, and teaming with the New York City-based defense giant L-3 Communications.

The Pentagon issued specifications last October for the new helicopter, with the goal of winnowing the field to two competitors next year in advance of a 2023 “fly off” to award any resulting contract.

Under its former parent company United Technologies, Sikorsky had put together a string of design wins including the CH-53K King Stallion helicopter, the largest ever built with Sikorsky ramping up toward full production for as many as 200 aircraft for the U.S. Marine Corps.

Also nearing initial test flights is a Black Hawk-derived helicopter the U.S. Air Force wants to field globally to rescue downed pilots and other dangerous missions like reconnaissance in enemy territory. And a Sikorsky pilot landed last year on a White House lawn the new VH-92A helicopter that will be used to transport the president of the United States and key staff.

With revenue from those projects still on the horizon, Sikorsky had seen revenue dip in the past few years amid declining demand for Black Hawk helicopters as the Pentagon scales back war operations in Afghanistan, and reduced demand from oil companies to service offshore rigs.

A week ago, however, Lockheed Martin executives attributed a boost in the conglomerate’s Rotary and Missions Systems division partly to an additional $170 million in revenue for Sikorsky, with Lockheed Martin not disclosing detailed revenue totals for Sikorsky as had been the practice of Farmington-based UTC.

“We’ve got a lot of development programs of course that we are working on, from the CH-53K to the combat rescue helicopter, to the presidential helicopter, to the opportunity on Future Vertical Lift,” said Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson, speaking on a conference call last week. “That’s a big opportunity for us.”

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© 2019 The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.