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The U.S. Army announced the cancellation of its program to develop an armed scout helicopter, delivering a major setback for Sikorsky, which had been competing for years to secure a contract likely worth billions of dollars.
The Stratford-based company, as well as Connecticut’s entire congressional delegation, expressed disappointment that the Army abandoned the search for a manufacturer to build the new future attack reconnaissance aircraft. The program began in 2018, and Sikorsky was selected as a finalist for its Raider X prototype, competing once again against Bell-Textron.
The Army had already put substantial money into the FARA program, though officials for the military service said some of the money that is no longer needed for it will go to other aviation investments, including at Sikorsky.
“With a $1 billion investment, X2 aircraft offer speed, range and agility that no other helicopter in the world can match. We remain confident in X2 aircraft for U.S. and international mission needs now and in the future. We are disappointed in this decision and will await a U.S. Army debrief to better understand its choice,” Sikorsky said in a statement following the Thursday evening announcement.
Sikorsky employs thousands of people in the state between its Stratford headquarters and other campuses. Hundreds of businesses are suppliers to the Lockheed Martin-owned company.
This is the second time in a couple of years that Sikorsky has lost out on a shot for a major Army contract. In late 2022, the defense manufacturer filed a challenge to the Army’s decision to choose Bell to build a long-range assault aircraft that would replace some Black Hawk helicopters. The Army denied Sikorsky’s appeal last year.
Those decisions have at times put the military service at odds with Connecticut’s congressional delegation, which had repeatedly pressed the Army for answers and raised concerns over why Sikorsky was not selected in the most recent contract award for the FLRAA program in late 2022. Lawmakers had argued that Sikorsky’s model was more affordable than the one selected, designed by Bell.
Connecticut lawmakers once again said they are looking to the Army to explain their pivot away from the FARA program.
“We are extremely disappointed that the Army has decided to walk away from the FARA program. We have been told on multiple occasions by the Army that FARA was their No. 1 priority. This is a complete reversal of that position,” all seven of Connecticut’s federal lawmakers said in a joint statement.
“We demand that the Army provides us with a detailed explanation of how they plan to achieve crucial aviation capabilities, thoughtfully prepare our national defense for the future, and utilize the exceptional and seasoned workforce at Sikorsky for generations to come,” they continued.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he was concerned about what the end of the program would mean for Sikorsky and its workforce, but said there was as “sliver of hope” with the Army providing another contract on Black Hawks.
As it moves away from FARA, Army officials said they would make investments elsewhere, which includes a multi-year contract for the procurement of UH-60M Black Hawk as well as money for upgrades to the Sikorsky-made aircraft.
“This decision was deeply disappointing, not only because of the impact on Sikorsky,” Blumenthal said in a Friday interview. “The mistake made by the Army here is more than just a jeopardy to Sikorsky’s workplace, which is the finest in the world. It’s also potentially a strategic blunder for the Army.”
The Army said it is going to instead shift its priorities “to meet emerging capability requirements.”
Gen. Randy George, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, said the service is learning about the changing nature of aerial reconnaissance, especially from Ukraine as it continues to fend off an invasion from Russia. He specifically noted the use of sensors as well as weapons on drones and in space.
“The Army is deeply committed to our aviation portfolio and to our partners in the aviation industrial base,” Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said in a statement. “These steps enable us to work with industry to deliver critical capabilities as part of the joint force, place the Army on a sustainable strategic path, and continue the Army’s broader modernization plan, which is the service’s most significant modernization effort in more than four decades.”
Blumenthal acknowledged the need for the Army to reconsider its needs with developing technologies but argued that there is “no substitute for human eyes and ears in some conditions.”
“They’re right that surveillance is changing with drones and sensors and space surveillance, and they want to get the biggest bang for their buck,” he said. “At the same time, the scout helicopter offers a versatility and penetration that very often can’t be achieved, in my view, by sensors and weapons mounted on drones.”
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