Sikorsky to Begin Building New Air Force Helo

Sikorsky_CRH Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. has won an Air Force contract to begin developing the service's next-generation combat rescue helicopter.

The company, part of Hartford, Connecticut-based United Technologies Corp., on Thursday received a $1.3 billion deal to build four prototypes, as well as mission and training systems, the company said in an announcement. Sikorsky has partnered with Lockheed Martin Corp. to supply the subsystem technology.

The agreement may lead to the eventual production and fielding of 112 choppers as part of a program potentially valued at $7.9 billion to replace the Air Force's fleet of HH-60 Pave Hawks, also made by Sikorsky, according to the statement. The company was the sole bidder for the acquisition effort.

"Since 1943, Sikorsky has proudly provided the combat rescue helicopter platform to enable the Air Force to perform one of its most important and sacred missions – bringing our downed service members home safely," President Mick Maurer said in the statement. "I'm tremendously pleased that we will continue to do so for years to come."

A derivative of the UH-60M Black Hawk, the new helicopter will feature more cabin space and internal fuel capacity than today's Pave Hawk, giving it better range, Sikorsky said.

The aircraft will also feature T700-GE-701D engines made by General Electric Co., composite wide-chord main rotor blades, and fatigue- and corrosion-resistant machined aero-structures to sustain maneuverability at high-density altitudes, the company said.

The program almost didn't receive funding because of deficit-reduction legislation known as the Bipartisan Budget Act and automatic spending reductions known as sequestration.

Indeed, an overview of the Pentagon's budget request for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 stated the program would be delayed.

"Due to the funding constraints of the BBA, the FY 2015 budget delays the CRH program for 2 years to fully investigate lower cost options," it states. "There is no funding in the FY 2015 request for CRH; however, the development program is funded beginning in FY 2016."

Turns out, Congress was able to find some money for the program, after all, and the service, led by its new secretary, Deborah Lee James, decided to move forward with the effort.

"The combat rescue helicopter was literally teetering on the brink," she said last week during a breakfast in Washington, D.C., with defense reporters. Sikorsky's bid came in "quite a bit below" what Pentagon analysts had expected and "appeared to be a very good deal for the taxpayer from a cost perspective," she said.

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