Sikorsky celebrates milestone after losing multibillion-dollar contract
Stratford-based Sikorsky marked its 5,000th "Hawk" helicopter on Friday, and assured workers their jobs are safe, despite losing a multibillion contract to replace the Army’s workforce Black Hawk chopper.
"This decision has no major, immediate impact on our workforce here,” said Sikorsky president Paul Lemmo.
The U.S. Army plans to replace the Black Hawk over the next few decades, a deal worth up to $70 billion in total. The Black Hawk has been the backbone of Sikorsky’s business since the chopper launched in 1978.
Last month, Sikorsky’s “DEFIANT X” lost out to rival Bell Textron’s V-280 Valor, a futuristic tilt-rotor aircraft that’s a major departure from the Black Hawk.
Sikorsky has filed an official protest of the Pentagon’s decision with the congressional General Accounting Office. A decision is expected by April 7.
Army leaders have offered few details about why they rejected Sikorsky’s bid. Last week, all seven of Connecticut's House and Senate members sent a letter to Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth requesting a “detailed briefing.”
"As representatives of the taxpayers, we deserve to get a full briefing,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut). “Especially if there's a major difference in cost."
But Quinnipiac University aerospace analyst David Cadden thinks the decision was about more than just money.
"They're taking a look at the Indo-Pacific area, and they're talking about longer distances for helicopters to fly,” said Cadden.
Sikorsky is an economic powerhouse in Connecticut. The company employs close to 8,000 workers in Stratford, but it also supports 242 suppliers in dozens of towns across the state, according to Gov. Ned Lamont’s office.
Losing to Bell Textron also cost Sikorsky $50 million in state incentives. However, $25 million is still on the table if the company lands a different contract in 2024.
The deal requires Sikorsky to keep its headquarters in Connecticut through 2042. An earlier $220 million incentive package, reached in 2016, mandates Sikorsky to keep producing government aircraft in Connecticut. Parent company Lockheed Martin had threatened to move production to Florida.
Despite the contract loss, there is room for optimism. The new federal defense budget includes more Black Hawk orders, as well as the massive CH-53K “King Stallion” for the U.S. Marines.
And the Black Hawk isn’t getting phased out anytime soon – giving Sikorsky and the state plenty of time to adjust.
"It is not a one-for-one replacement for the Black Hawk, which is why I say with confidence that the Black Hawk will be flying for at least the next four decades,” said Lemmo.
Sikorsky's current Black Hawk contract runs for five more years, and it may be extended through 2033. Lemmo also said Black Hawk sales to foreign countries are rising.