Sikorsky/Lockheed teaming on VXX may expand to CSAR-X

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In addition to teaming for a new presidential helicopter bid, Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin are considering partnering for the US Air Force's revived competition for a combat search and rescue (CSAR-X) helicopter.

"Our relationship with Lockheed could have application on things like CSAR as well," says Scott Starrett, president of Sikorsky Military Systems.

Three weeks ago, both companies signed an agreement to partner specifically for the VXX presidential helicopter programme, offering a VH-92 design based on the airframe and engine configuration already sold to Canada under the CH-148 Cyclone contract, Starrett says.

 
© The Maple Leaf/Canadian Forces
Canada's delayed CH-148 Cyclone will enter service in November

But the VXX agreement falls under a broader memorandum of understanding between the companies that allows for considering other missions with different aircraft.

"We will address those one by one and make decisions one by one," Starrett says.

The air force plans to award a CSAR-X contract in fiscal year 2012 to replace 100 ageing Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawks. A request for information released in March lists basic requirements that closely resemble the performance of the Sikorsky UH-60M, although the USAF is not planning to award a sole-source contract to the company.

A Lockheed/Sikorsky partnership on CSAR-X could be based on a four-decade-old relationship between the firms, which have supplied SH-60 and MH-60 Seahawks to the US Navy as patrol and anti-submarine warfare helicopters.

The companies are growing closer after splitting apart during the previous round of competitions for the VXX and CSAR-X contracts. Lockheed teamed with AgustaWestland on an AW101 derivative to compete against Sikorsky for VXX and against Boeing and Sikorsky for CSAR-X.

Lockheed initially triumphed over Sikorsky on VXX, claiming a $6 billion award to deliver 23 helicopters. But US Navy officials substantially changed the aircraft and system requirements after contract award, forcing a major redesign of the VH-71A (below). The resulting cost overruns and schedule delays forced the Obama administration to terminate the contract last June.

 
© Lockheed Martin
The US Navy's changed requirements for the VH-71A led to its cancellation

The navy released a new request for information for the revived VXX competition in February, suggesting the programme could be split into separate aircraft to carry VIPs and communications and command and control equipment.

Sikorsky, however, believes its joint VH-92 proposal with Lockheed will allow the USN to buy a single aircraft to perform both missions at the same time. The VH-92 will be powered by two General Electric CT7-8D engines, each producing around 2,500shp (1,865kW).

"Our cabin and the way we would configure it would meet their requirements for cabin size," Starrett says.

Sikorsky plans to deliver the first CH-148 to Canada in November after delays.