WASHINGTON — Sikorsky is developing a weapons package for its Black Hawk helicopter series, in a move that symbolizes a cultural shift for the firm under new owners Lockheed Martin.
Samir Mehta, president of Sikorsky’s Defense Systems & Services unit, told Defense News that the details of the weapons kit are still being worked out, but that he believes it would have a wide market among the international user base of the Black Hawk and could be either retrofitted onto those platforms or built into new production models.
The idea came about from a meeting, held shortly after Sikorsky joined Lockheed, between Mehta’s team and Lockheed’s Missiles and Fire Control office. And it exemplifies one of the biggest changes for Sikorsky since it left United Technologies (UTC) in November.
“We were previously part a company, United Technologies, which is a great company, but they were not primarily a defense company,” Mehta said. “They weren’t so bullish on developing products and portfolio around what we had. There was no complimentary activity between an elevator, an air conditioner, and a helicopter.”
Lockheed, by comparison, is open to any new opportunity in the defense realm, and the Black Hawk provides an easy market base to begin exploiting.
95 percent of the roughly 4,000 Black Hawks out in the world are in a utility-only configuration, Mehta said. He acknowledged that the US may not be interested, given its organized strategy of separate attack and utility helicopter fleets, but believes the global market is wide open.
“We’re going to develop kits and solutions but we’re going to do it in response to market needs. It could be, in some cases, work that was previously done by other companies that we can capture ourselves,” he said. “When we deliver a Black Hawk into the market we’re not the only company in the world that can provide an offensive capability. There are other companies out there that have done that. [But] we might be able to provide the customer package on day one, and going from the OEM rather than going to a third party.”
Given regional instability in the Gulf, Asia Pacific and Eastern Europe, Mehta believes a number of countries now desire the ability for their utility rotorcraft to have some offensive capabilities.
While details on what that weapons kit could look like are still in the air, Mehta mentioned that Lockheed’s Hellfire missiles might make a good option. However, there is still learning to be done, both from Sikorsky and from their new sister divisions.
“We’re still even learning all the products that Missile and Fire Control has, and they’re learning about our aircraft and our fielded aircraft out there, and even our future aircraft and how we can work together,” he noted.
Lockheed’s move to purchase Sikorsky was unusually complicated, given the sheer size of UTC and Lockheed and all the internal systems that come with large companies.
But the rotorcraft firm managed to switch owners without any major hiccups, which led Mehta to praise the work of the “tactical” side of Sikorsky – human resources, IT and accounting – that kept the lights on and the bills processed.
“The fact we didn’t implode and the fact people still showed up to work and the lights were on -- you take that for granted, but we have locations all over the world, in other countries, and to be able to pull that all off and be seamless was pretty good,” he said.
While Lockheed and Sikorsky have worked together on numerous programs in the past, neither side truly went “open kimono” with what technologies they were working on independently, Mehta said. Now that everything is open, the two sides are finding synergies on research areas like automation.
That flows both ways, although Mehta indicated Sikorsky is getting the better of the deal when it comes to material sciences.
“We didn’t have a large material capability,” Mehta said. “That is an area that we can benefit from, and benefit having that expertise now be in house rather than something you have to go shop for on the open market.”
He also revealed that Sikorksy was in the “advanced stages” of discussion with Lockheed about the larger firm joining them to handle mission system on the Sikorsky Raider developmental program.
“Now those discussion can take place without a teaming agreement and a commercial agreement and all the complications that come with those things,” Mehta said. “We can just openly share with them, they can just openly share with us.”