(Adds Lockheed statement)
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
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 and its key supplier, Lockheed
Martin Corp, beat the service's 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 for global personnel recovery, and remained
committed to a mission she called "part of the military ethos."
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 Defense Systems and Services, told Reuters.
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.
Lockheed said it would supply the mission systems and
special equipment for the new helicopters, including adverse
weather sensors, defensive systems and mission computers.
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 Tuesday 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 had 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 canceled by then-Defense Secretary Robert
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.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Bill Trott, Grant
McCool, Andre Grenon and Leslie Adler)