Despite a delay stemming from the Army source-selection board’s self-audit of its choice of Bell’s V-280 Valour as its Future Long Range Assault Aircraft which pushed the award announcement into early December, the losing Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky and Boeing team has officially protested the decision.
The news arrived as a brief statement released to the media. In it, the group which put forward the coaxial-rotor Defiant X for FLRAA said, “Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, filed a formal protest today asking the U.S. Government Accountability Office to review the U.S. Army’s decision on the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) contract.”
It’s a protest that most FLRAA observers were expecting regardless of which team (Valor or Defiant) was chosen. So consequential is the Army’s choice of which aircraft will partially replace its 2,000-strong fleet of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in a deal valued at up to $1.3 billion that failure to win the award had major consequences for either team. As I’ve previously noted, perhaps even more for Bell.
But the Army selected the V-280, a decision it tried to safeguard from a protest by taking extra care to dot all its i’s and cross all its t’s. Army acquisition chief, Doug Bush, told Defense News in October that
“There’s a process that the source-selection board goes through to not just make the source selection but then, importantly, to kind of audit themselves and have others audit them to make sure it was done the right way. It does take a while, but we want to make absolutely sure that we do this the right way and that we get what’s best for the Army.”
As the prime contractor, Sikorsky filed the protest, underlining Team DEFIANT’s contention that the selection was not made “the right way”.
In its statement, the Lockheed-Sikorsky-Boeing consortium explained, “The data and discussions lead us to believe the proposals were not consistently evaluated to deliver the best value in the interest of the Army, our Soldiers and American taxpayers. The critical importance of the FLRAA mission to the Army and our nation requires the most capable, affordable and lowest-risk solution. We remain confident DEFIANT X is the transformational aircraft the Army requires to accomplish its complex missions today and well into the future.”
The protest was made, the Sikorsky-led team said, “Based on a thorough review of the information and feedback provided by the Army...” A follow-up question to Lockheed Martin spokesperson, Melissa Chadwick, as to what feedback the team was referring to was answered with the explanation, “This refers to information from the Army debriefing process.”
Bell's V-280 Valor tilt-rotor was selected by the Army for FLRAA in a decision it hoped would not be ...
Team DEFIANT also did not clarify what it meant by its contention that “the proposals were not consistently evaluated”. As of this evening, Bell had not issued any statement on the protest which formally kicks off an administrative challenge that the GAO limits to 100 days, meaning it will be resolved by April 7.
The roughly three-month delay puts pressure on the Army’s challenging FLRAA schedule which has pointed to mid-2030 as the time frame in which the first operational FLRAA unit is fielded and ready for combat. Major source-selection decisions are rarely reversed but the Air Force’s experience a decade ago with its KC-X aerial refuelling tanker competition between Boeing and Airbus is a reminder that contractor protests (in that case Boeing’s protest) have changed the outcome of signature programs.
Sometime in late March or early April, we’ll know if Sikorsky’s “Defiant” protest has forced the Army to flip-flop.