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The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has denied a protest filed by Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation against the award of the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) development contract to Bell Textron by the Army Contracting Command – Redstone Arsenal, the GAO announced on 6 April 2023.

The FLRAA contest pitched two distinctly different rotorcraft designs against each other: the Bell V-280 Valor tiltrotor; and the Lockheed Martin (Sikorsky)/Boeing SB>1 Defiant compound helicopter. On 5 December 2022 the US Army announced that it had downselected Bell’s V-280 Valor to move the programme forward, but Sikorsky protested the decision on 28 December.

“Sikorsky challenged the agency’s assignment of a rating of unacceptable to its proposal under the engineering design and development evaluation factor, architecture subfactor, which ultimately rendered the proposal ineligible for award,” the GAO stated. “Sikorsky also argued that the agency should have found Bell’s proposal to be unacceptable. Finally, Sikorsky challenged the agency’s evaluation under the engineering design and development factor and the product supportability factor; the cost/price evaluation; and the best-value trade-off decision.”

The GAO then stated that, in denying the protest, it had concluded that the US Army reasonably evaluated Sikorsky’s proposal as technically unacceptable because Sikorsky failed to provide the level of architectural detail required by the request for proposals. The GAO also refuted Sikorsky’s various allegations about the acceptability of Bell’s proposal, “including the assertion that the agency’s evaluation violated the terms of the solicitation or applicable procurement law or regulation”.  Lastly, the GAO dismissed Sikorsky’s additional arguments on the basis that Sikorsky was no longer an interested party to further challenge the procurement.

The GAO further made clear that its decision “expresses no view as to the merits” of the FLRAA proposals and that judgements about which solution would most successfully meet the government’s needs were “reserved for the procuring agencies, subject only to statutory and regulatory requirements”.

While a Congressional delegation from Sikorsky’s home state of Connecticut continued to petition the US Army and seek clarification on its decision in the wake of the GAO ruling, Bell now appears free to pursue its FLRAA work in earnest.

Asked to comment on the GAO ruling, A Bell spokesperson replied, “This decision validates the US Army’s historic choice to modernize its air assault fleet with the flight-proven speed, range, and versatility delivered by Bell’s V-280 Valor. The army followed a deliberate process throughout the competition, and we are excited to get to work as the army’s partner in modernising its aviation fleet.”

A statement from Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky and Boeing provided to ESD stated, “We remain confident the Lockheed Martin Sikorsky and Boeing team submitted the most capable, affordable and lowest-risk Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft solution. We will review the GAO’s decision and determine our next steps.”

The FLRAA programme seeks to produce a new vertical lift aircraft to augment and ultimately replace the US Army’s ageing H‑60 Black Hawk utility helicopter fleet, with the goal of fielding the first aircraft by fiscal year 2030. The projected total contract value, including all options, is approximately USD 7.1 Bn.

Peter Felstead