Sikorsky wins $1.24 billion deal for new Marine One helicopters

Graphic renderings of the next Marine One helicopter to be built by manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.


By BRIAN DOWLING | Hartford Courant | Published: May 8, 2014

Sikorsky helicopters will get to keep their parking spots on the South Lawn of the White House.

The company Wednesday afternoon won a multibillion-dollar Navy contract to replace the president's aged fleet of Marine One transportation helicopters, aircraft that Sikorsky built almost four decades ago.

Sikorsky Aircraft Co. and the U.S. Department of Defense announced the $1.24 billion contract for six test aircraft, the first to be delivered by 2020. Twenty-one aircraft will be built for the presidential fleet, with most of the work to be done in Connecticut.

Sikorsky, a division of Hartford-based United Technologies Corp., is teaming with Lockheed Martin on the contract.

"We are honored by this news and the vote of confidence in the Sikorsky team and the proven S-92 platform," said Sikorsky President Mick Maurer. "We stand ready to deliver the next Marine One, the world's most advanced executive transport helicopter."

The decision reverses Sikorsky's fortunes for the relatively small, though prestigious, defense contract, having lost the job to Lockheed Martin a decade ago.

Over the years, the original Sikorsky Marine One filled up with tactical and communications components that weighed down the helicopters, which ferry the president, the vice president and visiting heads of state.

As security concerns increased after terrorist attacks in 2001, defense officials decided it was time to upgrade the fleet and awarded the $6.5 billion replacement contract to Lockheed Martin. By 2009, though, Lockheed's costs were estimated to be $13.5 billion by the end of the contract. The Navy canceled the program, but not before after spending more than $3 billion.

Months later, the Navy decided it still needed to replace the fleet.

In April 2010, Sikorsky teamed with Lockheed, its former rival on the program, to develop a military version of its medium-sized S-92 helicopter, used for civil search and rescue and by the offshore oil and gas industries.

Boeing and Northrop Grumman had both expressed interest in the contract, but neither submitted a proposal.

"Throughout the entire proposal process, we emphasized cost as well as technical performance," U.S. Navy Capt. Dean Peters, program manager for the Presidential Helicopters Program Office, said in a statement. "Sikorsky's proposal adequately supports this commitment and together we will efficiently deliver the next Presidential helicopter fleet in an affordable and timely manner."

Having just one bidder, though, is a concern for Ethan Rosenkranz, a national security policy analyst for the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog group in Washington D.C.

He said the contract requirements seem to have been molded so that Sikorsky was the only manufacturer able to bid.

"The bidding process was tailored to such an extent that only one contractor could effectively bid on it," he said. "The requirements were changed to suit Sikorsky, so in that respect, you're limiting competition at the outset of the program. … Competition leads to lower costs for the government. The result of just having one contractor bidding is we are not going to have the most cost-effective option."

The six test aircraft will comprise two engineering vehicles and four demonstration aircraft, which will later be converted to operational status. The Navy will contract for 17 more aircraft from Sikorsky in three groupings, starting in 2019.

To build the aircraft, Sikorsky will start with its "off-the-shelf" S-92 built and tested at its Coatesville, Pa., plant. At the company headquarters In Stratford, aircraft modifications will be made to meet the requirements of the president. Then in Owego, N.Y., Lockheed Martin will add advanced communications and mission systems to the helicopters. Lastly, back in Stratford, Sikorsky will install the cabin.

The Pentagon said that 62 percent of the work will be performed in Stratford, 19 percent in Owego and 14 percent in Coatesville. Small amounts will be done in Orlando, Fla.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Vergennes, Vt.; and Torrance, Calif.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, whose district includes Stratford, said: "Sikorsky has long been synonymous with Marine One, the presidential helicopter. Every president since Eisenhower has flown in a Sikorsky, made right in Connecticut. I am thrilled to see this contract come back to Stratford where it has always belonged and where it should have gone in the first place.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who secured a $500 million tax deal with United Technologies to keep much of the company's operations in the state, said, "At a time when defense budgets are being significantly reduced, Connecticut firms continue to earn the major contracts because they are building the right things at the right time; high quality products specifically called for in the Pentagon's national security strategy."

"This contract combined with our agreement to keep Sikorsky and United Technologies in our state for years to come means our residents will continue to have good paying jobs with good benefits," Malloy said.

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