STRATFORD, Conn. — The U.S. Air Force has awarded a $1.28 billion contract to Sikorsky Aircraft for the first of what could be an order of 112 combat rescue helicopters.
Thursday’s contract award to Sikorsky is the first step in what could be a $7.9 billion deal for up 112 helicopters. But because the eventual quantities of the combat rescue helicopters will be determined year-by-year over the life of the program, based on funding allocations set by Congress and the U.S. Department of Defense acquisition priorities. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said federal budget advocates will have other opportunities to scuttle the Air Force’s request as they tried to do with this initial order.
“It going to be a continued battle to keep the full order intact,” Blumenthal said. “But this order is more than a toe in the water, it’s a huge leap into the future. And the Air Force is saying that it’s all in on this.”
The derivative version of the UH-60M Black Hawk that Sikorsky will produce for the Air Force will replace the aging HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter fleet. The HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter was also made by Sikorsky.
The Air Force’s initial order calls for the development and integration of the rescue mission systems, the delivery of four combat rescue helicopters, as well as seven aircrew and maintainer training systems. The contract also calls for initial training of Air Force aircrew and maintainers and the delivery of an additional five combat rescue helicopters by 2020, once additional aircraft and training options are exercised.
Mick Maurer, president of Sikorsky Aircraft, said the company is “honored” to have been chosen by the Air Force once again.
“Since 1943, Sikorsky has proudly provided the combat rescue helicopter platform to enable the Air Force to perform one of its most important and sacred missions — bringing our downed service members home safely,” Maurer said in a statement. “ I’m tremendously pleased that we will continue to do so for years to come.”
Blumenthal credited the unity of the Connecticut delegation as one of the factors that beat back attempts to have the size of the Air Force contract reduced or eliminated entirely. Last November, he and fellow Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., along with Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-3, fought to save the combat rescue helicopter program after it was reported that it was facing elimination due to sequestration.
Thursday, DeLauro called the combat rescue helicopters “critical life-saving assets that the Air Force has needed for years to replace its current fleet of worn down aircraft.”
“This contract is good news for the long-term security of Sikorsky’s status in Connecticut, and I am pleased to have played a role in making it happen,” DeLauro said in a statement. “There are no better helicopters in the world, and there are no better people to make them.”
The new version of the UH-60M Black Hawk that Sikorsky is producing for the Air Force will be produced at Sikorsky’s main plant in Stratford and at a company factory in Florida.
Sikorsky has produced more than 700 Black Hawk helicopters for the U.S. government and militaries worldwide, since production of aircraft deliveries began in 2007.
Sikorsky is a division of Hartford-base United Technologies Corp.