BREAKING: Army Chooses Bell Textron's V-280 Valor Tiltrotor to Replace Black Hawk
The Army awarded Bell Textron a contract with a total ceiling of $1.3 billion for the helicopter that will replace the aging Black Hawk, Army officials announced Dec. 5.
After months of waiting for an expected decision, the V-280 Valor tiltrotor beat out Sikorsky-Boeing’s bid — the Defiant X coaxial rotor blade platform — in the years-long competition to design the future long range assault aircraft, or FLRAA, a key part of the Army’s plan to modernize its aviation platforms.
Over the next 19 months, an initial obligation of $232 million will fund Bell’s preliminary design and development of a virtual prototype that the Army will then use to proceed with the acquisition, Army Brig. Gen. Robert Barrie, program executive officer for aviation, told reporters at a media roundtable.
For the initial phase of the acquisition, there will be no aircraft procured, he noted.
The competition pitted two different approaches against each other: Bell Textron's tiltrotor design, similar to the V-22 Osprey — flown by the Marines, Special Operators and the Navy — and the Sikorsky-Boeing' coaxial rotor blade, a pair of rotor blades stacked on top of each other.
When asked what put the tiltrotor ahead of the competition, Barrie declined to elaborate. “We're not going to talk specifics about the evaluation, but what we were seeking is the best-value approach,” he said. He described “best-value” as a “comprehensive analysis of a variety of factors."
“No one thing really drove the decision,” he said. “So if you look … at a very high level, the factors or variables of performance, cost and schedule, all were considered and the combination of those are defined explicitly and evaluated.”
While the V-280 is the best choice to replace the UH-60 Black Hawk, officials have prepared for a potential protest from the Sikorsky-Boeing team and “have accounted for that in our timelines,” said Doug Bush, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.
“We planned for that contingency, but that is completely up to the vendor,” he said.
While the companies have three days to request a debrief, it is not clear if Sikorsky-Boeing will protest the decision.
“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,” Sikorsky-Boeing representatives said in an email statement. “We will evaluate our next steps after reviewing feedback from the Army.”
Bush added the Army is confident in its evaluation.
“The diligence wasn't just to avoid potential protests. It was to make sure we picked the right aircraft for the Army,” he said. “So it's more than just a protest issue. And I'm confident in the process we use to achieve that.”
The initial contract “refines the weapon system design, sustainment, digital enterprise, manufacturing, systems integration, flight-testing, and airworthiness qualification,” according to a Bell press release.
The total award amount for the FLRAA contract including engineering manufacturing and development phase and the first lot of low-rate initial production is $7.1 billion, Barrie added.
“There's a larger number on the order of $70 billion of potential, depending on how many aircraft the Army procured over the long term to include potential foreign military sales,” he said. “So that's both near term and long term.”
The V-280 will bring a modern rotorcraft to the Army, Keith Flail, executive vice president of Advanced Vertical Lift Systems at Bell, said in the release.
“For the past several years the Bell team demonstrated the exceptional operational capabilities, digital thread synergies, and platform affordability enhancements the V-280 provides,” he said in the release.
The platform is powered by the Rolls Royce AE 1107F engine on the V-280.
Army Maj. Gen. Walter Rugen, director of future vertical lift’s cross functional team, added the service is confident about the ability of the platform to perform in degraded visual environments, which are increasingly becoming more common on the battlefield.
“We are very concerned about the loss of visual reference in vertical lift systems, and the cognitive offloading that we want to attain in our future systems,” he said at the reporter's roundtable. “So with a digital cockpit and full authority, digital fly-by-wire capabilities, we certainly see an ability to protect our crews in the future.”
When asked if the health of the industrial base was considered in the selection process, Barrie noted that the execution of any program would “consider the suppliers and the suppliers’ role in an industry prime.” But the winning platform was not selected because of that reason, he said.
“If your specific question was, is the selection of one or the other, then that is not the case,” he said. “That was not part of the factors.”
The first Army unit is slated to be equipped with FLRAA by fiscal year 2030. The initial prototype will be delivered to the Army by 2025, according to the service.