(Adds interview with Sikorsky executive)
By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON, June 26 Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of
United Technologies Corp, won a $1.28 billion contract
on Thursday to develop a new combat rescue helicopter for the
U.S. Air Force, a deal that could eventually be worth up to $7.9
The initial contract covers development and delivery of four
new Combat Rescue Helicopters (CRH) based on the company's
workhorse UH-60 Black Hawk, and caps nearly 15 years of repeated
unsuccessful efforts by the Air Force to replace its aging fleet
of HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters.
The Air Force said Sikorsky beat its affordability target by
about $700 million.
Sikorsky welcomed the deal, noting that it has built combat
search and rescue helicopters for the U.S. military since 1943.
Sikorsky President Mick Maurer said the helicopters allowed the
Air Force to "perform one of its most important and sacred
missions - bringing our downed service members home safely."
Air Force Secretary Deborah James said the Air Force was the
key service responsible for global personnel recovery, and
remained committed to a mission she described as "part of the
More than 12,200 U.S., allied and other forces have been
saved in rescue missions around the world, the Air Force said.
Thursday's contract with Sikorsky comes after one of the
longest-running and controversial acquisition programs the
service has attempted in recent decades.
"It has been a very, very long road," Sam Mehta, president
of Sikorsky Military Systems, told Reuters in an interview.
He said Sikorsky bid aggressively to win the contract, aware
of the budget pressures facing the Pentagon and expecting tough
competition from other companies. He said work on Black Hawk
variants for the Army and Navy would allow Sikorsky to leverage
economies of scale in the supply chain and lower costs.
The new contract - and a separate one for a new presidential
helicopter - will bolster Sikorsky production from 2019 on, but
the company still faces challenges in the near-term because of
declining U.S. military spending, Mehta added.
He said the company was heartened by news on June 24 that
the Pentagon had approved the sale of Black Hawk helicopters to
Mexico, a deal worth $225 million, and was chasing other orders.
The Air Force awarded Boeing Co a contract to build
141 rescue helicopters based on its twin-rotor CH-47 "Chinook"
design in 2006, but the deal was protested immediately by the
losing bidders - Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin Corp - and
later canceller by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The Air Force restarted the program in 2012, but Boeing,
Northrop Grumman Corp and Europe's Airbus later
dropped out of the competition, arguing that the Air Force had
skewed the requirements to favor Sikorsky's helicopter.
In March, the Air Force's 2015 budget request to Congress
omitted funding for the program, but officials added the program
back in the same day under pressure from senior U.S. lawmakers.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Bill Trott, Grant
McCool and Andre Grenon)