The US government’s internal auditor has upheld the US Army’s decision to select the Bell V-280 Valor as its next medium-lift and troop transport helicopter.
The decision by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), announced on 6 April, formally denied a challenge from Bell rival Lockheed Martin, whose subsidiary Sikorsky was a finalist in the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) competition.
The entire programme could be worth as much as $80 billion over several decades, according to the army, which ultimately intends to replace its fleet of 2,300 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks with the FLRAA design.
Delivery of the first aircraft is scheduled for 2030.
Sikorsky put forward its Defiant X compound co-axial design to compete against the V-280.
Until now, little had been known about what technical factors the army observed in the two aircraft, how the service reached a decision in favour of Bell and what factors Sikorsky assessed as violating US procurement law. One of the service’s top aviation officers previously indicated airspeed and range would be top priorities in army’s evaluation.
According to the GAO review of the case, the army deemed Sikorsky’s design “unacceptable to its proposal”, citing unspecified engineering and development evaluation factors that rendered the Defiant X “ineligible for award”.
The army also determined the Bell design to be superior from a cost perspective, representing “the best-value trade-off decision”.
As part of its protest, the Sikorsky team challenged both the engineering and cost assessments by the army, and argued the V-280 should have been found similarly unacceptable.
The GAO did not disclose details of those assessments, but declared the protest without merit and upheld the army’s decision.
“The army reasonably evaluated Sikorsky’s proposal as technically unacceptable,” says Kenneth Patton, managing associate general counsel for procurement law the GAO. “Sikorsky failed to provide the level of architectural detail required by the [request for proposal].”
Patton says the GAO also denied allegations by Sikorsky that Bell’s FLRAA bid was technically unacceptable. He also struck down the argument that the army’s evaluation process violated the terms of the FLRAA solicitation or government procurement law.
The decision appears to have closed the door on FLRAA with finality, denying Sikorsky the ability to protest further.
“GAO dismissed Sikorsky’s additional arguments on the basis that Sikorsky was no longer an interested party to further challenge the procurement,” Patton says.
In response to the ruling, Bell praised both the GAO conclusion and the army’s FLRAA evaluation process.
“This decision validates the US Army’s historic choice to modernise its air assault fleet with the flight-proven speed, range and versatility delivered by Bell’s V-280 Valor,” the company says. “The army followed a deliberate process throughout the competition, and we are excited to get to work as the army’s partner in modernising its aviation fleet.”
Bell had been on hold from moving forward with V-280 production while the GAO audit was conducted. The company was awarded an initial contract in December worth $232 million to support initial manufacturing and design work.
Sikorsky appeared to dispute the ruling, but did not reveal its next move.
“We remain confident the Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky and Boeing team submitted the most-capable, affordable and lowest-risk [FLRAA] solution,” the company says. “We will review the GAO’s decision and determine our next steps.”