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US GAO Rejects Sikorsky’s Protest Over FLRAA Award: What’s Next for Future Vertical Lift?

The V-280 Valor was selected by the US Army in December 2022 for its Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program, surpassing Boeing-Sikorsky’s SB>1 Defiant X. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has dismissed a protest filed by Sikorsky Aircraft, challenging Bell Helicopter’s award for the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program.

In an announcement on April 6, the GAO stated that the FLRAA program aims to develop a new fleet of vertical lift aircraft to replace the aging H-60 Black Hawk platform, with the goal of deploying the first operational aircraft by FY2030. The estimated total contract value, including all options, is around $7.1 billion. According to the GAO, Sikorsky disputed the agency’s assessment of their proposal as unacceptable in terms of engineering design and development evaluation, specifically the architecture subfactor, which rendered the proposal ineligible for the award.

Furthermore, Sikorsky argued that Bell’s proposal should have been deemed unacceptable, contesting the evaluation of the engineering design and development factor, the product supportability factor, the cost/price evaluation, and the best-value tradeoff decision. The GAO rejected the protest and concluded that the “[US] Army reasonably evaluated Sikorsky’s proposal as technically unacceptable due to the lack of architectural detail required by the RFP.” The GAO also dismissed Sikorsky’s claims regarding the acceptability of Bell’s proposal, stating that Sikorsky was no longer an interested party to challenge the procurement further.

FLRAA Program The FLRAA program by the US Army was a fiercely competitive rotary defense procurement effort, given the substantial contract opportunities involved. Being tasked with replacing the thousands of currently operational Black Hawk helicopters would secure decades of work for the winning company. Sikorsky, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, and Bell Helicopter, owned by Textron, presented two distinct designs. Bell focused on the V-280 Valor tiltrotor aircraft, while Sikorsky, in collaboration with Boeing, offered the coaxial rotor SB>1 Defiant X. The winning platform’s ability to maintain high speed was crucial for the program, as it needed to significantly enhance capabilities compared to the H-60 Black Hawk. Tiltrotor aircraft, with their ability to transition from vertical to horizontal flight, can achieve airspeeds beyond most rotary platforms.

Bell’s Defiant X, as stated by Honeywell, the developer of the HTS7500 turboshaft engine, could reach speeds exceeding 247 knots with double the range of a Black Hawk, without requiring refueling. Additionally, it featured a pusher propeller located on the tail of the aircraft. In contrast, the V-280 Valor would be powered by Rolls-Royce’s AE 1107F engine, also used in the US military’s other operational tiltrotor, the V-22. According to Rolls-Royce, the V-280 Valor can achieve speeds exceeding 300 knots. Under the contract, Bell Helicopter is expected to deliver a physical prototype of the V-280 to the US Army by 2025.

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