Bell Textron Inc. beat two of the biggest defense contractors in the industry for a U.S. Army contract to manufacture the replacement of the UH-60 Black Hawk. Securing the contract means billions for the company for decades to come.
Bell was competing against Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky and Boeing’s DEFIANT X helicopter. The Army chose Bell’s tilt-rotor design with the V-280 Valor, which will eventually replace the Black Hawk. The Black Hawk has been flying for more than four decades.
The contract could be worth about $70 billion for decades to come, according to reporting from Reuters. The first set of helicopters will be worth $7.1 billion
“We are honored that the U.S. Army has selected the Bell V-280 Valor as its next-generation assault aircraft,” said Scott C. Donnelly, Textron’s chairman and chief executive officer. “We intend to honor that trust by building a truly remarkable and transformational weapon system to meet the Army’s mission requirements. We are excited to play an important role in the future of Army Aviation.”
Bell, which is headquartered in Fort Worth, employs more than 4,000 people.
Richard Aboulafia, managing director at Aerodynamic Advisory, a boutique aerospace and defense consultancy, said this is a huge deal for Bell Textron as its programs, such as V-22 Osprey and AH-1Z Viper, start to wind down.
“They wouldn’t have had much of a future without this,” Aboulafia said. “This is going to be the center of what Bell does in the next decade. They’ll still have their civil business, but you know, they’re a third player after Airbus and Leonardo.”
The new contract is bound to create jobs as time goes on and the helicopter becomes in service starting in 2030, Aboulafia said.
Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker called the contract a historic moment.
“This historic decision will preserve and expand our world-class workforce here in Texas. This is a historic win for Bell and Team Valor, and a big win for the state of Texas,” Parker wrote in a tweet.
Texas ranks third in the amount of defense contracts – companies in the state received $47.3 billion in 2021.
There’s several components that go into choosing a new helicopter. In a past interview with Fort Worth Report, Dudley Smith, a professor of practice in mechanical engineering with expertise in the aerospace industry at University of Texas at Arlington said how far and fast the aircrafts can fly and the reliability and cost effectiveness goes into awarding a contract.
“We’re American taxpayers. And the people that derive these requirements, they’re very sensitive to that, and the military is sensitive to that,” Smith said. “They only have so many dollars, so they have to get as they would say, the best bang for your buck.”
Experts like Aboulafia believe the contract will be formally contested by Sikorsky and Boeing. Doing so is common but seldom successful, and is often used as a way of getting more information about why the company lost the contract and why the other company won.
Sikorsky and Boeing officials remain confident in their product, DEFIANT X, as the best choice.
“We remain confident DEFIANT X is the transformational aircraft the U.S. Army requires to accomplish its complex missions today and well into the future. We will evaluate our next steps after reviewing feedback from the Army,” according to a joint statement from Sikorsky and Boeing.
It isn’t a huge loss for Sikorsky or Boeing, Aboulafia said. The Black Hawk will still be in production even with the new helicopter for decades to come. Boeing still has the Apache and Chinook helicopters.
“It also means that they’re going to be lobbying, to delay FLRAA to fund Black Hawk procurement on an ongoing basis,” he said. “In other words, the FLRAA program now has an enemy.”
Lockheed Martin is the top recipient of defense contracts. In fiscal year 2021, the Department of Defense awarded $39.2 billion in contracts to Lockheed. The company employs more than 22,000 people in the Fort Worth area and has produced aircrafts such as the F-16 Falcon, F-35 Lightning II at an aeronautics facility according to a Lockheed Martin spokesperson. Sikorsky is headquartered in Stratford, Connecticut.
Bell and Lockheed Martin are also competing for the Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, which are helicopters designed for scouting and reconnaissance.
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.