Lockheed upbeat on possible foreign helicopter sales

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp executives on Tuesday said they were optimistic about foreign sales prospects for CH-53K heavy lift helicopters and H-60 Black Hawk helicopters built by its new Sikorsky unit.

Such orders would help offset a slump in commercial helicopter orders triggered by the downturn in oil prices that has slowed demand from the oil and gas sector, Lockheed Chief Financial Officer Bruce Tanner told Reuters at the company’s annual media day.

In Germany, Sikorsky’s CH-53K helicopter is competing with Boeing Co’s CH-47 Chinook helicopter for 60 potential orders, with Germany expected to issue a formal request for proposals in the next three to six months.

Sam Mehta, who heads Sikorsky’s defense business, told Reuters that winning the German order would help lower the cost of the 200 CH-53K helicopters Sikorsky is due to build for the U.S. Marine Corps, and could help stimulate more foreign orders.

Mehta said Sikorsky could eventually see dozens of potential CH-53K orders from countries like Japan and Israel that operate current, aging models of the CH-53 helicopter.

He said Germany would need to pick a winner by the end of the year to ensure it could start using the helicopters as planned in 2018 or 2019, but the European immigration crisis had created budget pressures that could curtail military funding.

To facilitate any deal and ensure the participation of German industry, Sikorsky was exploring possible partnerships with several German aerospace firms, including potentially rival helicopter maker Airbus Helicopters, Mehta said.

Sikorsky has worked closely with the Airbus Group unit for a decade, providing logistic support for the UH-72 Lakota helicopter that Airbus builds for the U.S. Army, he said, when asked if Sikorsky could team up with a rival company.

Mehta said Sikorsky was standing by to work with the new Polish government if it decided to cancel a $3 billion order for Airbus helicopters placed by the previous government. He said Sikorsky had pre-built Black Hawk helicopters on hand if needed.

Earlier this year, a Polish deputy defense minister said the deal with Airbus was likely to be scrapped. Members of the new government have said they would rather see the deal awarded to a company that builds the helicopters locally.

Both Sikorsky and AgustaWestland, a unit of Italy’s Finmecccanica SpA, have facilities in Poland. Airbus would source work on its helicopters in Poland, but the aircraft would mostly be built in France.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Bernard Orr