The joint team of Sikorsky and Boeing are challenging the US Army’s decision to award Textron subsidiary Bell the multi-billion dollar contract to produce its new utility lift and troop carrier helicopter.
Sikorsky parent company Lockheed Martin said on 28 December it had filed a formal protest with the independent US Government Accountability Office (GAO), triggering a review of how the army made its choice for the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) contract.
“Based on a thorough review of the information and feedback provided by the army, Lockheed Martin Sikorsky, on behalf of Team Defiant, is challenging the FLRAA decision,” Lockheed says.
DefiantX is the name of the compound coaxial design Sikorsky and Boeing submitted for FLRAA. The type is based on Sikorsky’s X2 line, which the company has been developing for decades.
Lockheed says it made the decision to protest after reviewing army-provided data on the competition between the DefiantX and Bell’s V-280 tiltrotor.
“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,” Lockheed says. “We remain confident DefiantX is the transformational aircraft the army requires to accomplish its complex missions today and well into the future.”
Bell declined to comment on the protest filing. However, when the company announced its FLRAA win on 5 December it called the V-280 a “truly remarkable and transformational weapon system” that will meet the army’s mission requirements.
The filing of an official protest with the GAO starts a review process in which the agency must render a decision within 100 days. An initial report on the GAO review is due 30 days after the protest was filed.
While those dates represent the statutory maximums, the GAO says the review could be completed sooner.
“We always seek to issue a decision as far in advance of the 100-day deadline as possible,” the agency says, adding the GAO has a century-long history of providing an “objective, independent, and impartial forum for the resolution of disputes concerning the awards of federal contracts”.
The GAO’s review of the FLRAA contracting process will assess factors including how the army structured the contract requirements and whether or not both bids received equal treatment.
US government procurement rules require a final decision to be unbiased and based purely on the criteria established in the request for proposal, according to legal consulting firm UpCounsel. Additionally, the firm says, “all bidders must be treated fairly and judged on an equal basis”.
The 30-day report from the GAO will shed light on the specific factors the agency is evaluating with regard to the FLRAA decision. Once the report is published, Lockheed will have 10 days to file comments in response to the GAO’s initial findings.
From there, the agency may request more information from the respective parties or hold exploratory hearings, before rendering its final decision.
Among the factors considered in assessing the army’s decision will certainly be its focus on the speed and range of the two rotorcraft. Major General Walter Rugen, director of the army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) initiative has stated publicly the service considers those two features essential to survivability on the modern battlefield.
The FVL team, which oversees aviation modernisation programmes including FLRAA, has previously said the possibility of a protest was built in to its timeline for the programme.
Service acquisition officials delayed the FLRAA decision by several months in order to perform more analysis on the results of the competition.
“We’re working through a very event-driven, but rigorous process to get that decision,” said Rodney David, the army’s acting deputy programme executive officer for aviation, in October.
The ultimate winner of the FLRAA contract will replace the roughly 2,300 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters currently in service with the US Army. That modernisation effort, which will be rolled out over the coming decades, is worth billions of dollars in revenue to the winner.
On 6 December, the army awarded Bell an initial FLRAA development contract worth $1.36 billion.