Sikorsky-Boeing confident SB-1 Defiant won’t be the next Comanche

Washington DC
Source: Flightglobal.com
This story is sourced from Flightglobal.com

Boeing and Sikorsky expressed confidence today in SB-1 Defiant, their design for the US Army’s high-speed joint multi-role (JMR) technology demonstrator programme.

They also say the companies will work closer together and be more efficient than when they partnered to build the troubled RAH-66 Comanche.

Samir Mehta, president of Sikorsky military systems, tells Flightglobal that the companies’ substantial investments in Defiant show their confidence in its design and in the Army’s ability to see the project through.

“If we didn’t think the Army could pull off [the JMR programme], we wouldn’t have shown up with the dollars,” says Mehta. “We are voting with our wallets.”

Pat Donnelly, Boeing’s JMR programme director, tells Flightglobal that Boeing and Sikorsky are paying “much more” than half the cost of designing Defiant, though he declines to say how much.

The executives made their comments to Flightglobal during the annual event of the Association of the United States Army in Washington, DC.

Sikorsky-Boeing are one of four bidders to win technology investment agreements to design a vertical-lift aircraft intended to replace the Army’s fleet of Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks in the 2030s.

Defiant has counter-rotating coaxial rotors and a rear pusher propeller, which executives say make it quick and nimble, with fast acceleration, fast deceleration and the ability to swerve side-to-side and hover in a nose-down, tail-up position.

Sikorsky-Boeing competes against Karem Aircraft, AVX Aircraft and Bell Helicopter-Lockheed Martin, which also won JMR technology investment agreements.

The Army is expected to chose two winning bidders next year, and first flights are scheduled for 2017. Contractors expect the Army to issue a request for porposals around 2020, once they have defined their performance requirements.

Defiant is the latest Army aircraft designed by a Boeing-Sikorsky team, following the Sikorsky-Boeing Comanche project.

Comanche, which traces it roots to the early 1980s, cost nearly $7 billion before being cancelled in 2004 by US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Boeing and Sikorsky say factors outside their control largely caused Comanche’s problems.

Comanche was hamstrung by budget cuts and “requirement creep,” says Mehta.

“I don’t pin the ultimate termination of that project on the dysfunction of the teams,” he says.

Donnelly agrees: Comanche suffered because it was drawn out over so many years. He notes Comanche was cancelled at the request of the Army.

Still, Boeing and Sikorsky say they are doing things different this time.

Donnelly says the companies will ensure their is minimal duplication of work and he says there is more trust between them.

He notes that 25 Boeing employees recently lived in Connecticut near Sikorsky’s headquarters, where they worked with Sikorsky employees on the design of Defiant’s transmission.

There are also changes to how work is divided.

During the Comanche programme, each company was responsible for different components of the aircraft, says Mehta. For instance, one built the tail, another built the cockpit.

This time, work will be done by teams composed of Boeing and Sikorsky employees, an approach that helps ensure each team benefits from both companies’ expertise.

“This is a classic [example of] one-plus-one equals three,” Mehta says.