Bell Textron’s Valor wins Army FLRAA competition to replace Black Hawk


The V-280 Valor, Bell’s entry for the military’s future long-range assault aircraft, in flight. (Bell)

WASHINGTON — After years of development, prototyping and test flights, the Army today announced that the Bell Textron Valor tiltrotor won its Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) competition to be the successor to the aging UH-60 Black Hawk and a key component of the Army’s future strength.

The announcement gives Bell a massive win, not just in America but with the global community of 28 Black Hawk operators, many of whom will likely follow the US military’s lead when looking for a replacement in the future.

“I am thrilled to be part of this momentous day for our Army,” Douglas Bush, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, said in a statement. “The thoughtful and disciplined execution of FLRAA program strategy will provide the transformative capabilities we need to sustain joint force, enhance deterrence and win in multi-domain operations.”

In a subsequent call with reporters, several army officials provided additional details about the new contract. In total, they said, this current deal is worth up to $1.3 billion, with the initial obligation valued at $232 million over the next 19 months.

Major General Robert Barrie, general manager of the Army’s aviation program, said the initial dollar figure will allow Bell to continue preliminary design of the aircraft and provide “virtual prototypes of a potentially model-based system”.

“There are no aircraft purchased in the initial game,” the two-star general said. If the plane goes into production, the program could soar to $70 billion over its lifetime.

“This is an exciting time for the U.S. Army, Bell, and Team Valor as we modernize the Army’s aviation capabilities for decades to come,” said Mitch Snyder, Bell President and CEO, in a brief statement.

Over the past few years, teams from Bell and Sikorsky-Boeing have raced side by side for the massive contract, producing futuristic prototypes and logging hours of flight. Army chiefs were originally due to announce the winner earlier this year, but said they needed more time to consider the offers. Then, on Nov. 21, Bush told reporters that a decision would be announced by the end of the calendar year, saying the delay was simply due to the “quality control” and “due diligence” needed. associated with a contract “of this size”.

The exact requirements that the service set for the aircraft remain closely related, but have allowed the companies to produce two startlingly different designs: Bell’s tiltrotor Valor aircraft versus Sikorsky-Boeing’s coaxial Defiant X rotor.


Sikorsky’s Defiant X, his entry for the military’s future long-range assault aircraft, shown in flight. (Sikorsky)

It’s unclear at this time if a contract protest will be filed, although given the scale of the FLRAA program, that wouldn’t be a surprise. A protest could potentially delay the Army in its quest to field the new FLRAA fleet around 2030, but service chiefs said today they factored a potential protest delay into the timeline.

The Sikorsky-Boeing team did not reveal whether it would protest the decision, but released a brief statement after the announcement.

“We remain convinced that DEFIANT X is the transformational aircraft the U.S. military needs to accomplish its complex missions today and into the future,” the team wrote in a statement. “We will assess our next steps after reviewing the Army’s comments.”

Over the weekend, Breaking Defense spoke with Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., at this year’s Reagan National Defense Forum. Wittman, a candidate for chairman of the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Ground Forces Subcommittee, said he thought the FLRAA concept was based on “sound” technology, but said he wanted ensuring that the range of the aircraft was suitable for the great distance in the Indo-Pacific region.

In this region, the tactical platform will be a connector and “the question is, are there enough KC-46As, or whatever, to tank it in theatre? We will have to airlift them,” he said.

“I think before giving the final award, they really need to look at those operational elements of the aircraft and determine, does it work in all theaters, or does it just work in a European theater where … we have a lot of land base facilities,” Wittman explained. “It’s a big deal to put a tanker in the [Indo-Pacific Command]and take it to a FLRAA or [Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft] and refuel,” he later added.

Breaking Defense’s Aaron Mehta contributed to this report.

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