The Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced Thursday it denied a protest filed by Sikorsky Aircraft, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, and Boeing over the U.S. Army’s decision to award the service’s next-generation helicopter to Bell Textron’s design.
The contract award for what the Pentagon calls the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) is expected to represent the Army’s largest helicopter acquisition in four decades and is planned to eventually replace the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter after 2030.
The Army awarded the contract to the Bell V-280 Valor tiltrotor helicopter in December, prompting Sikorsky and Boeing to protest the decision on behalf of their Defiant X helicopter later that month.
The GAO denied the protest and "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 [request for proposal]."
The agency added that it denied Sikorsky’s allegations about the acceptability of Bell’s proposal and dismissed Sikorsky’s additional arguments.
GAO notes that the agency expresses no view about the merits of proposals and that judgments about which proposals will best meet the government’s needs are reserved to the agencies and are subject only to statutory and regulatory requirements.
Lockheed Martin Sikorsky and Boeing issued the following statement on the GAO’s decision to deny the protest: "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."
Bell, which is a subsidiary of Textron Inc., will receive a projected total of $7.1 billion under the contract award if all options are exercised and the Valor enters low-rate production. That figure includes $232 million to cover prior work on the FLRAA project, plus up to $1.3 billion for further design and prototype work.
Over the life of the fleet, the contract could be worth as much as $70 billion if the helicopter moves into higher-rate production and is made available for sale to the militaries of foreign allies and partners, according to Maj. Gen. Rob Barrie.
Bell’s Valor was designed to have a higher speed and longer range than the UH-60 Black Hawk, and its tiltrotor design includes improvements based on lessons learned from the Bell V-22 Osprey, which is a tiltrotor helicopter in service with the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy, in addition to Japan’s military.
Sikorsky’s Defiant utilizes a compound coaxial design to improve its speed and range relative to a traditional helicopter design.
Though Bell's Valor and Sikorsky's Defiant have different designs, both were made to fit the Army's requirements of a faster speed and longer range than the Black Hawk while fitting into the same footprint as the UH-60 to ease the eventual transition.
Sikorsky and Bell are competing for another Army helicopter contract that will play out in the next several years. The Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) is intended to be a successor to the Bell OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter that was retired in 2014.
The two finalists for the FARA contract are the Sikorsky Raider X, which has a compound coaxial design similar to the Defiant, and the Bell 360 Invictus.