* Boeing, AgustaWestland pull out
* Sikorsky sole company left bidding
* Navy had planned contract award next year
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON, July 31 The U.S. Navy on Wednesday
defended the way it structured a competition for development of
a new presidential helicopter, even as all but one of the
companies interested in the multibillion-dollar program pulled
out of the running.
Officials at AgustaWestland, a unit of Italy's Finmeccanica
SpA, and Boeing Co, which had considered
proposing its V-22 tiltrotor plane or H-47 Chinook helicopters,
said Wednesday they do not plan to submit bids. AgustaWestland
had teamed with Northrop Grumman Corp to pursue a
That leaves only Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United
Technologies Corp, which is teamed with Lockheed Martin
Corp, according to industry officials.
Sikorsky spokesman Frans Jurgens said his company was
confident that its S-92 helicopter - already in use by more than
10 heads of state - would provide additional capabilities for
the presidential helicopter fleet, while reducing operating and
Bids in the new competition are due Thursday. The Navy had
planned to award a contract in the third quarter of fiscal 2014.
Sikorsky built the current fleet of Marine One helicopters
that whisk the president away from the White House.
Lockheed was the prime contractor on the previous helicopter
contract, which was scrapped in 2009 after requirements changes
threatened to double the cost of the program to $13 billion.
Defense officials said they did not expect the latest
developments to alter their plans to proceed with the
competition, and said there were procedures in place to ensure
competitive pricing even in cases involving a single bidder.
The no-bid decisions came weeks after the Navy's handling of
another large acquisition program, a multibillion-dollar
contract for a new electronic jammer awarded to Raytheon Co
, was challenged by Britain's BAE Systems.
Senator John McCain and congressional agencies have also
criticized the Navy's approach in a $34 billion program to buy
52 new coastal warships.
Navy spokeswoman Captain Cate Mueller said the number of
bidders was considered sensitive information while the
acquisition process was underway, and declined comment on the
consequences of the latest developments.
But she underscored that the Navy's request for proposals in
the competition had been shaped by an extensive process that was
focused on the military requirements for the new helicopter, not
any specific aircraft offered by the companies.
The Navy issued a draft request for proposals (RFP) in
November and updated it several times. Navy officials also
visited various industry sites and held several group and
one-on-one forums to get feedback from potential bidders, she
"Industry feedback was given serious consideration
throughout the RFP refinement process with the goal of
maximizing participation from interested bidders," Mueller said.
She said the Navy's acquisition approach was looking to tamp
down costs by integrating mature equipment into an aircraft that
is currently in production, noting that one key lesson learned
from the previous failed effort was the need to ensure that
requirements could be met on time and within the budget.
Lockheed was the prime contractor on the previous program,
called VH-71, with the helicopters supplied by AgustaWestland.
A similar situation developed last year on the Air Force's
new combat rescue helicopter after Boeing, the
AgustaWestland-Northrop team, and Europe's EADS dropped
out, leaving only Sikorsky bidding for the work.
In that case, Air Force officials said they would require
Sikorsky to provide more detailed cost data to ensure that the
resulting pricing was good as possible.
AgustaWestland on Wednesday said it had decided to skip
offering its AW101 helicopter for the competition because the
requirements set for the deal favored a competitor.
"There are fundamental proposal evaluation issues that we
believe inhibit our ability to submit a competitive offering,
and that provide a significant advantage to our likely
competitor," AgustaWestland said in a statement.
Northtrop spokesman Randy Belote confirmed that the team had
decided not to bid, but declined to elaborate.
Boeing spokesman Damien Mills said his company opted out
after concluding that neither the H-47 Chinook helicopter or
V-22, which it builds with Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron
Inc, would be competitive for the program as currently
Industry officials said the Chinook was too big to land in
the designated envelope at the White House, while the V-22 was
too big to fit into the C-17 cargo plane for transport.
The U.S. Navy's posting in May called for construction of
six developmental helicopters during the engineering design
phase, followed by nine helicopters during a low-rate production
phase and up to eight more in the following years.
The current presidential helicopters are VH-60N "Night Hawks"
and VH-3D "Sea Kings," both built by Sikorsky.