Lockheed challenges Bell's $8.2 billion development program

A Lockheed Martin-led team will challenge the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) contract award to Bell, raising a new administrative hurdle to proceeding with the $8.2 billion development program for the U.S. Army’s first high-speed rotorcraft.

“The data and discussions lead us to believe the proposals were not consistently evaluated to deliver the best value in the interest of our Army, our soldiers and American taxpayers,” Lockheed said in a statement released on Dec. 28. 

The protest filed with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) comes 23 days after the Army picked the Bell V-280 Valor tiltrotor for the FLRAA contract. The Army specifically awarded a $1.2 billion contract for Bell to deliver a virtual prototype of the V-280, with a follow-on, $7.1 billion deal for Bell to complete engineering and manufacturing development. 

A Lockheed/Boeing team offered the Defiant X for FLRAA, proposing a coaxial rotor with a pusher propeller with slightly less speed and footprint than the V-280. 

The protest bid sets up an administrative challenge that the GAO limits to 100 days, a period that expires on April 7. 

But the move adds new pressure on the Army’s aggressive schedule for the FLRAA program. The contract award was originally set for the second quarter of 2022, but was delayed by several months. The Army once planned to field the first operational unit in 2034, but accelerated the deployment plan by four years in 2019. The first operational FLRAA unit is now expected to be ready for combat in mid-2030. 

The fate of the FLRAA contract award has significant implications for the industrial base. The program will replace a large portion of the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk fleet, the most successful military helicopter in terms of sales in the modern era. The selection of the V-280 pushed the Army into embracing Bell’s tiltrotor approach, which had been pioneered by the U.S. Marine Corps with the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey.

Congressman Ronny Jackson believes Lockheed Martin will lose it's protest. 

“The Army conducted a thorough process when selecting the FLRAA contract recipient. I have been intimately involved with all things Future Vertical Lift during my time in Congress, and, based on my deep understanding of the mission’s requirements, Bell’s V-280 is the right platform.

"The workforce in Amarillo, combined with Bell’s state-of-the-art technology, fits the requirements laid out by the Army. I am confident that this contract will move forward as planned," Jackson said.

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