An executive with Sikorsky’s parent company predicts “explosive” growth if the Connecticut plant is selected to produce the Pentagon’s next generation of helicopters.
That could have a boomerang effect for the economy of Connecticut, where Sikorsky has its headquarters plant in Stratford and satellite facilities in Bridgeport, Shelton and Trumbull, while supporting hundreds more system subcontractors and vendors in the region.
On a Tuesday conference call, Lockheed Martin CEO Jim Taiclet said the company continues to accelerate payments to suppliers as a financial backstop as it deals with the ongoing disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Department of Defense is planning an initial “fly-off” demonstration next year between Sikorsky and the Bell Helicopter subsidiary of Textron to determine the prime contractors for the first of two programs under its “Future Vertical Lift” initiative.
Sikorsky’s Raider-X is one of two finalists as an armed scout for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft program, which is slated to kick off its showcase in the sky for Pentagon experts in November 2022.
The helicopter features a stacked set of rotor blades that whirl in opposite directions, providing stability in flight for Sikorsky to swap out the rear rotor that acts to maintain the heading of a traditional helicopter. Instead, the Raider-X has a “pusher” prop mounted like that on the wing of an airplane to achieve greater speed.
The SB>1 Defiant has a similar design that Sikorsky and partner Boeing have put forward for the Future Long-Range Attack and Assault program. Sikorsky and Boeing filed their final SB>1 Defiant proposal last month for the Pentagon to consider.
“That growth rate could be explosive, if we prevail on FLRAA and FARA,” John Mollard, interim chief financial officer for Lockheed Martin, said during Tuesday’s conference call. “You will see an inflection point.”
Bell Helicopter and its Rhode Island-based parent Textron are countering with a pair of tilt-rotor aircraft developed from the core design of the V22 Osprey aircraft used by the Marines. The V-280 prototype Bell built is a finalist for the National Aeronautic Association’s top prize for innovation, with Sikorsky’s original X2 prototype having won it a decade ago.
“The Black Hawk first flew its prototype in 1974, so it’s been a long time, it’s been a great air-assault platform,” Ryan Ehinger, program director for Bell’s Future Vertical Lift work, said in August on a video forum posted to YouTube by Bell. “The Army’s talked a lot about the need for transformation and having a new capability for 2030.”
Lockheed Martin expects Black Hawk production to decline by half in the coming years, on the heels of the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, but the new CH-53K King Stallion for the Marines will be ramping up to help fill that void. Mollard said CH-53K revenue increased about $300 million from its 2020 totals, which he did not specify.
The King Stallion is the largest helicopter ever fielded by the U.S. military, with a bay large enough for the newest generation of Humvee vehicles and the lifting power to transport via sling the Light Armored Vehicle used by the Marines.
In late September at its headquarters plant in Stratford, Sikorsky marked the first King Stallion helicopter delivered to the U.S. Marine Corps. As of late September, six King Stallions were under final assembly with three dozen more at earlier stages in the manufacturing process. Sikorsky is not scheduled to complete the next helicopter until early next year, with the Marines eyeing as many as 200 aircraft should Congress and the White House allocate the required funding over time.
At a “flyaway” cost of $92.6 million, those aircraft and spare parts would cost the government nearly $26 billion,according to the most recent projections published in March by the Government Accountability Office. That does not include another $8 billion that was awarded for development of the helicopter.
The King Stallion is one of three major new helicopter programs Sikorsky has won from the Department of Defense, alongside the new VH-92A to replace the current White House fleet; and the HH-60W Jolly Green II for the U.S. Air Force, which will position it to rescue pilots downed in hostile territory and other missions.
On Tuesday, Taiclet said the company expects about $100 million in additional revenue next year it had not forecast previously from HH-60W production, offset by a similar sized decline in revenue on the White House helicopter.
“New administration, changes in priorities,” Taiclet said. “I think they all settle out to the good, but it’s going to take a couple years to get through all that.”
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