* Companies also worked together on canceled Comanche
* Army project to lay groundwork for bigger Pentagon program
* Executives say they're "in it for the long haul"
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON, Jan 18 Boeing Co and Sikorsky
Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp, said they
were teaming up to develop a next-generation, multi-purpose
helicopter for the U.S. military.
The long-term strategic teaming agreement, signed Jan. 13
and announced on Friday, reunites two of the biggest U.S.
helicopter manufacturers, who often compete for orders but
joined forces to build the Comanche, a U.S. Army helicopter
program that was canceled in 2004.
Sikorsky, the maker of the UH-60 Black Hawk utility
helicopter, and Boeing, which builds Apache attack helicopters,
plan to submit a joint proposal in response to an Army
technology demonstration project unveiled earlier this month
that will fund preliminary design plans for the new aircraft.
The Army program will lay the groundwork for the Pentagon's
Future Vertical Lift program - a massive project that will
ultimately replace more than 4,000 medium-lift helicopters used
by various U.S. military services.
Boeing and Sikorsky will compete with other industry teams
to build and fly one or more demonstrator aircraft in 2017,
which would then be evaluated for the bigger program.
"This is the beginning of a long-term strategic partnership
that will make Boeing and Sikorsky the biggest actors in the
global military helicopter business," said Loren Thompson, a
Virginia-based defense consultant and chief operating officer of
the Lexington Institute think-tank.
He also said the move reflect the dearth of new development
programs across the military.
COMPANIES SEE BENEFIT IN TEAMING UP
Officials from Sikorsky and Boeing said joining forces would
help the companies deliver an innovative, affordable helicopter.
Samir Mehta, president of Sikorsky military systems, told
reporters that both companies would invest significant amounts
of their own money into the development effort.
"We're in it for the long haul together on this program," he
said. "This really is 'one plus one equals three' from a
Executives from both firms declined to give any details
about what kind of aircraft they would propose since the
competition is already under way. They said the partnership
would not affect teaming deals they have with other companies on
other programs, but declined comment on whether they could
submit separate solo bids or bids with other partners.
"Our teaming agreement is the continuation of a longstanding
relationship between Boeing and Sikorsky and reflects a common
vision for the future of Army aviation," Chris Chadwick,
president of Boeing Military Aircraft, said in a statement.
By pooling their resources, the aerospace companies will be
able to offer the military "a revolutionary capability for the
warfighter at an affordable cost for the U.S. taxpayer," said
Mick Maurer, president of Sikorsky.
The Army launched the technology demonstration project
earlier this month, saying it would support the Pentagon's
program to develop the next generation of vertical-lift aircraft
with greater performance, reliability and affordability.
Thompson said the Boeing-Sikorsky agreement could spur other
companies in the sector like Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron
Inc and AgustaWestland, a unit of Italy's Finmeccanica
SpA, to consider their own teaming agreements.
"If the two biggest helicopter makers get together, they
become nearly unbeatable in the marketplace and their
competitors are at a real disadvantage," he said.
Sikorsky is teamed with Lockheed on the MH-60
helicopters it builds and services for the U.S. Navy. The two
companies are also working together on a bid to build a new
search and rescue helicopter for the Air Force.
Sikorsky and Boeing also dominate the heavy-lift helicopter
segment. Sikorsky is building a new CH-53K helicopter for the
Marine Corps, while Boeing builds twin-rotor Chinooks.
Sikorsky spent $50 million of its own money to develop the
X2 helicopter, which is considered the fastest helicopter ever
built, and is spending multiples of that amount to work on the
S-97 Raider, a larger military prototype.