An artist rendering of the Sikorsky and Boeing DEFIANT X helicopters.

An artist rendering of the Sikorsky and Boeing DEFIANT X helicopters. Sikorsky

Sikorsky and Boeing Challenge Army Decision to Replace Black Hawk with Bell V-280 Tiltrotor

The Government Accountability Office has 100 days to review the deal.

Sikorsky and Boeing are challenging the Army’s decision to replace the service’s Black Hawk helicopters with tiltrotor aircraft manufactured by Textron’s Bell.

The announcement comes four weeks after the Army chose the Bell-made V-280 Valor over the Defiant X, a new-design helicopter jointly made by Sikorsky and Boeing, for what the service calls the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, or FLRAA. 

“The 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,” Sikorsky and Boeing said in a joint statement. “The critical importance of the FLRAA mission to the Army and our nation requires the most capable, affordable, and lowest-risk solution. We remain confident DEFIANT X is the transformational aircraft the Army requires to accomplish its complex missions today and well into the future.”

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office will review the protest and must make a ruling within 100 days. Its recommendations could range from urging the Army to reevaluate bids to saying the protest is without merit. If the protest is thrown out, Sikorsky—which is part of Lockheed Martin—and Boeing could challenge the Army in court.

Army and Bell spokespeople were not immediately available for comment. When the Army announced on Dec. 5 that it had chosen the V-280, officials predicted the decision would be contested.

“We've anticipated that potentially happening and have accounted for that in our timelines,” Doug Bush, the head of Army acquisition, said at the time.

Army officials said Bell’s V-280, an aircraft that can take off and land vertically like a helicopter, but rotate its propellers in flight to fly at faster speeds, provided the service the “best value.”. Officials at the time declined to give specific reasons why it chose the V-280.

Acquisition officials wanted “to make sure we've picked the right aircraft for the Army,” Bush said. “I'm confident, the process we used achieved that.”

Replacing the Black Hawk will likely prove incredibly lucrative for the winning bidder. The contract could be worth more than $70 billion over the coming decades, depending on how many aircraft are purchased by the Army, other branches of the military, and allies.

Regardless of GAO’s decision, Lockheed stands to benefit. The company is a technology supplier to Bell’s V-280 team. But losing would put more pressure on Sikorsky to win a different Army competition for new attack and reconnaissance helicopters. 

Replacing the more than 2,000 Black Hawks in the Army’s fleet would not be immediate, as military procurement projects for totally new-design aircraft often take a decade or more before the first aircraft are battle ready.

Significant delays to the FLRAA project would likely mean the existing Black Hawk fleet would need to fly longer. That means Sikorsky and its suppliers could benefit from necessary maintenance deals.