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Navy orders of heavy-lift helicopters a vote of confidence, Sikorsky president says

A CH-53K King Stallion aircraft, left, prepares to land at Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, Jupiter, Fla., March 8, 2016.

GABRIELA GARCIA/U.S. MARINE CORPS

By STEPHEN SINGER | The Hartford Courant | Published: May 22, 2019

HARTFORD, Conn. (Tribune News Service) — With Sikorsky’s next-generation heavy-lift helicopter in various stages of production, the Stratford manufacturer now says delivery is set for 2022.

Sikorsky’s president, Dan Schultz, said in an interview that despite delays in the CH-53K program, the Navy’s order is a vote of confidence.

“The government is extending a huge amount of confidence in our test plan by awarding this contract to us,” he said. “It says we have confidence you’re building this aircraft correctly.”

Sikorsky will build 12 CH-53K King Stallion helicopters as part of a $1.1 billion U.S. Navy contract and among 200 aircraft for the Marine Corps. The Stratford-based unit of defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. will begin deliveries in 2022 and also provide spare parts and logistical support.

Sikorsky, a unit of defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., has eight other aircraft in other stages of production, bringing it now to 20.

Design deficiencies delayed testing and those helicopters may not be delivered to the Marine Corps until at least 2021, according to a Defense Department report.

A Pentagon assessment begun after an April 4 request from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., cited continuing technical problems and delays with the $31 billion King Stallion program, Bloomberg reported.

Schultz said he will “never comment on senators’ intentions.”

“From our point of view what the Senate and what Congress has asked us to do is demonstrate our capability,” he said. “So far we’ve been able to do it.”

Lockheed Martin and the administration of then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy agreed in 2016 to a $220 million state aid package for Sikorsky Aircraft committing the company to building nearly 200 CH-53Ks for the U.S. Navy until at least 2032.

Lockheed Martin also agreed to nearly double its spending of $350 million a year with Connecticut suppliers, which state officials described at the time as a key provision.

Bloomberg News reported that Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer said the helicopter is “on a good path” toward resolving as many as 126 technical issues after the Navy restructured the $31 billion program.

Ellen Lord, under secretary of defense for acquisition, said she “has more confidence” in the CH-53K program and that she supported a $1.3 billion contract for 12 more production-model helicopters that was awarded Friday.

On a separate matter, Schultz said Sikorsky is not grappling with problems in hiring that face other manufacturers in Connecticut. “So far, we’re holding our own with employment,” he said.

Connecticut’s two other large Pentagon contractors — jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney of United Technologies Corp. and General Dynamics Electric Boat — are working hard to fill a rising number of jobs in response to demand and to replace retiring baby boomers.

Schultz credited Local 1150 of the Teamsters as an effective partner in training new Sikorsky workers.

©2019 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

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