An Army Black Hawk helicopter is staged at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, prior to surveying the damage caused by a massive earthquake, Feb. 13, 2023.

An Army Black Hawk helicopter is staged at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, prior to surveying the damage caused by a massive earthquake, Feb. 13, 2023. U.S. Army / Spc. William Thompson

GAO Upholds Army Choice of Bell V-280 to Replace Black Hawk Helicopter

Sikorsky and Boeing had protested the service’s decision.

The U.S. Army properly awarded Bell a contract for its V-280 tiltrotor aircraft over a rival bid from Sikorsky and Boeing, government auditors said Thursday.

The Government Accountability Office rejected Sikorsky and Boeing’s claims that the Army incorrectly evaluated proposals for an aircraft intended to replace the H-60 Black Hawk helicopter. 

“[T]he Army reasonably evaluated Sikorsky’s proposal as technically unacceptable because Sikorsky failed to provide the level of architectural detail required by the [request for proposals],” GAO wrote in a statement posted on its website. “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.”

The decision did not assess the merits of the proposal, GAO said.

“The FLRAA Source Selection Board followed a deliberate, rigorous process,” an Army spokesman said in an emailed statement. “GAO's decision demonstrates that we determined the proposal that represented the best value to the Army and taxpayer, and we look forward to reviewing the full GAO report.  

“We are ready to work with Bell, execute this contract and deliver transformational increases in speed, range, payload and endurance for Army tactical assault and MEDEVAC missions to support the Joint force, strengthen deterrence and win in multi-domain operations,” the spokesman added.

Sikorsky, which is owned by defense giant Lockheed Martin, teamed up with Boeing to pitch Defiant X, a newly designed compound helicopter. The technology does away with the need for a tail rotor, replacing it with a pusher propeller that allows the helicopter to fly at higher speeds. The Bell V-280 is a tiltrotor, an aircraft with fixed wings and movable rotors on the tips. It can take off and land like a helicopter, but fly fast like a traditional plane.

The nonpartisan GAO did not release the detailed decision document because it contains proprietary corporate information. The agency plans to release a redacted version after lawyers from the respective companies review it. That process could take several weeks, according to an industry official.

Lockheed and Boeing, in a joint statement, said the companies would “review the GAO’s decision and determine our next steps.” 

“We remain confident the Lockheed Martin Sikorsky and Boeing team submitted the most capable, affordable, and lowest-risk Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft solution,” they said in an emailed statement.

The companies have multiple options. They could challenge the decision in court, which would likely lead to a lengthy delay in fielding a new aircraft for the Army. Or, they could turn to their advocates in Congress.

Ultimately the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, or FLRAA, effort to replace the Sikorsky-made Black Hawk could be worth $70 billion over several decades.

A Bell spokesman was not immediately available for comment.