Sikorsky Awaits U.S. Air Force, Navy Contract Awards

 - March 12, 2014, 7:17 AM
The U.S. Air Force's new combat rescue helicopter will be based on the Army's UH-60M Black Hawk. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Sikorsky Aircraft anticipates contract awards this year from the U.S. Air Force for its new combat rescue helicopter (CRH) and from the Navy for a new U.S. presidential helicopter. Sikorsky is also planning first flights this year of the Marine Corps’ developmental CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter and the company-funded S-97 Raider, at one time aimed at the Army’s now shelved armed aerial scout requirement.

During a roundtable briefing with reporters in Washington, D.C., on March 11, Samir Mehta, Sikorsky Defense Systems and Services president, said the manufacturer is “obviously delighted” with the Air Force’s late-breaking decision to fund the CRH program, which is potentially worth $7 billion for 112 helicopters to replace the service’s HH-60G Pave Hawks. In a briefing at the Pentagon on March 4, Maj. Gen. Jim Martin, Air Force budget director, said he learned of the decision to move forward with the CRH acquisition just before he walked into the room. The service said that because of “the criticality of this mission,” it will realign $430 million from other priorities in Fiscal Years 2014 through 2019, and award Sikorsky the contract by June.

Mehta described the new CRH as a “heavily modified” Black Hawk with updated avionics and mission systems. It is based on the UH-60M Black Hawk, which differs from the HH-60G in having composite rotor blades and other improvements. “It has some of the inherent advantages of being a base-model M, [with] an improved gearbox and improved blades,” he said. The mission systems, supplied by integration partner Lockheed Martin, “will provide an additional awareness on the battlefield and actually provide both offensive and defensive capabilities.”

The Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin pairing expects a contract award by “mid-year” for the Navy’s VXX Presidential Helicopter Replacement Program, for which Sikorsky submitted the lone bid last August. The team will supply Sikorsky’s S-92 medium-lift helicopter for the program, which is worth $3 billion for 21 helicopters. Meanwhile, the manufacturer plans to fly the first CH-53K system demonstration test article for the Marine Corps later this year from its West Palm Beach, Fla., flight-test center. “This is the only major DOD rotorcraft development program in existence,” potentially worth $20 billion for 200 helicopters, Mehta said.

Sikorsky and industry partners continue building the S-97 Raider despite the Army’s decision to defer replacing the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior with a new aircraft. It expects to fly the 11,000-pound-class, coaxial-rotor helicopter later this year. “For us, the opportunity to be able to have this aircraft ultimately fly in an armed aerial scout configuration for the United States Army in particular is still viable,” Mehta said. “We are pursuing this technology. We are building this aircraft; we will fly this aircraft. Our plan to do this was actually independent of an actual short-term requirement for this aircraft in the armed aerial scout mission.” Sikorsky and partner Boeing are advancing the “SB-1 Defiant,” their design for the Army’s Joint Multi-Role (JMR) medium utility and medium attack requirements. That program is potentially worth $80 billion for more than 4,000 aircraft. Sikorsky expects the Army will make a “down-select” decision among competing teams in June.

Mehta said the Army’s “aviation restructuring initiative,” in which the Army will send some UH-60 Black Hawks to the Army National Guard, and the Guard will send AH-64 Apaches to the Army, could affect Sikorsky’s aftermarket business. The Black Hawk “program of record remains the same, and that was critically important, obviously, in our analysis,” he said. “We don’t know what kind of impact this will have on optempo [operations tempo, or usage] of the aircraft and that really impacts the support side of the equation. Quite frankly, a lot of our struggles in the short term have been around optempo and declining requirements for support in the aftermarket. We’ll have to wait and see what the overall impact of the shift has been on that part of the business.”