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Fri, Apr 21, 2023

Sikorsky to Forgo Future Protests of FLRAA Contract Award

To Bell With It …

On 05 December 2022, in a controversial decision disparaged by many in the aerospace and defense communities, Bell’s V-280 Valor tiltrotor beat out the joint Sikorsky-Boeing Defiant X coaxial rigid rotor helicopter—thereby winning the U.S. Army’s Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) contract and heralding the imminence of a wholly counterintuitive, vastly more expensive replacement for the Army’s venerable UH-60 Black Hawk platform.

Sikorsky disputed the Department of Defense’s (DOD) decision, and in late December 2022, filed a formal protest against the award’s outcome with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Sikorsky argued in part: “ … 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.”

In the end, the GOA rejected Sikorsky’s protest, stating on 06 April 2023: “In denying the protest, GAO concluded that the Army reasonably evaluated Sikorsky’s proposal as technically unacceptable because Sikorsky failed to provide the level of architectural detail required by the RFP [Request for Proposal]. The GAO also denied Sikorsky’s various allegations about the acceptability of Bell’s proposal, including the assertion that the agency’s evaluation violated the terms of the solicitation or applicable procurement law or regulation. Finally, GAO dismissed Sikorsky’s additional arguments on the basis that Sikorsky was no longer an interested party to further challenge the procurement.”

In a joint statement following the GOA’s assertion of Bell’s retention of the FLRAA contract, Sikorsky and Boeing remarked: “We remain confident the Lockheed-Martin, Sikorsky, and Boeing team submitted the most capable, affordable, and lowest-risk Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft solution. We will review the GAO’s decision and determine our next steps.”

On 19 April 2023, Sikorsky and parent company Lockheed-Martin—having apparently determined next steps were either pointless or ill-advised—stated they harbor no intentions of filing a lawsuit protesting Bell Helicopters’ receipt of the potentially $7-billion FLRAA contract.

The joint Sikorsky-Lockheed-Martin announcement follows the release of U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) documents detailing what the Army called "an unacceptable risk" vis-à-vis costs and delays likely to be incurred integrating new systems with the aircraft design jointly proposed by Sikorsky and Boeing.

In a corporate statement, Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky set forth: "We are disappointed with the Government Accountability Office decision and remain convinced that our [Defiant X] offering represented both the best value for the taxpayer and the transformational technology that our warfighters need to execute their complex missions. We value our long-standing partnership with the U.S. Army, and serving their missions remains our top priority."

During a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, Senator Richard Blumenthal (Democrat, Connecticut) advised Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth that he questioned the service’s decision to award the FLRAA contract to Bell’s tilt-rotor over what he characterized as the "less expensive, more maneuverable" Defiant X.” Blumenthal’s ire derives, most likely, of the fact that Sikorsky headquarters and manufacturing plant are located in Stratford, Connecticut, and the company is among the state’s largest employers.

The Army ostensibly found the Sikorsky-Boeing Defiant X submission "unacceptable" insomuch as it was allegedly presented in insufficient detail. Army brass contended queries pertaining to the manner in which emerging offensive and defensive technologies might be integrated with the Defiant X rotorcraft weren’t satisfactorily answered. The GAO indicated Army evaluators determined the Sikorsky- Boeing proposal did not address all elements of the Army's requirement for a "modular open system" architecture. Modularity is a de rigueur but demonstrably self-defeating ethos embraced in perpetuity by the Pentagon—the Army in particular. In its essence, modularity, in the military context, is that quality of a weapon, vehicle, or system by which it is easily adapted to other weapons, vehicles, or systems through reconfiguration or replacement.” A machine-gun that can be field-converted into a leaf-blower, immersion-blender, and high-performance pogo-stick is modular.  

The Sikorsky-Boeing Defiant X was rejected largely because it is merely a superbly fast, tough, and maneuverable coaxial rigid-rotor helicopter. Were the machine could be converted into an excavator and a cocktail lounge, it—and not Bell’s V-280 Valor tiltrotor—would likely be the Army’s next-generation long-range assault rotorcraft.

In its initial protest of the Army’s decision, Sikorsky argued that any shortcoming in its formal proposal could have been overcome by dint of "relatively minor contractor emphasis and government monitoring.” The Defiant X scored "acceptable" grades on six additional categories, while Bell won three "good" scores, two "acceptable" grades and one "marginal."

Sikorsky and Lockheed-Martin contended Bell’s V-280 tiltrotor was afflicted by "inherent limitations for the standard air assault, mountain air assault, and external load mission profiles.” The Army disagreed, however, maintaining that while the V-280 lacked the Defiant X’s combat maneuverability, the former aircraft’s tiltrotor design afforded higher speeds over longer distances without refueling. The Army added—somewhat churlishly and without elaboration—that the V-280 provides "appreciable and meaningful advantages.”

While Sikorsky's price estimate for the Defiant X was nearly half of what Bell intends to charge U.S. taxpayers for the V-280 Valor, Army evaluators declared Sikorsky's "cost realism could not be fully assessed" and asserted—after the fashion of a bloated, U.S. federal acquisition orthodoxy—that Bells’ kingly price-tag "is reasonable and provides the best value."

Sikorsky’s contention that the Army’s selection of Bells’ tiltrotor design fails to serve the best interests of America’s warfighters and taxpayers is shared by legions of military and aviation analysts—the bulk of whom cite the protracted development and safety record of Boeing-Bell’s V-22 Osprey tiltrotor.

The V-22’s development spanned 15-years, ran 61-percent over-budget, and killed 23 U.S. Marines.

In 2002, Brookings Institute senior fellow Michal E. O’Hanlon said of the V-22: “Its production costs are considerably greater than for helicopters with equivalent capability, specifically, about twice as great as for the CH-53E, which has a greater payload and an ability to carry heavy equipment the V-22 cannot ... an Osprey unit would cost around $60-million to produce, and $35 million for the helicopter equivalent.”

To date, U.S. military V-22s have suffered 14 total hull losses and numerous additional accidents and incidents resulting in a total of 51 fatalities and 49 serious injuries. What’s more, in 2019—12-years after the V-22’s official entry into U.S. military service—the Osprey’s mission-ready rate was 52-percent.

FMI: www.lockheedmartin.com/en-us/capabilities/sikorsky.html

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