WASHINGTON — Sikorsky has filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office over the U.S. Army’s contract award to Textron’s Bell to build the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, expected to be the service’s largest helicopter procurement in 40 years.

The GAO confirmed it has an “open protest filed today [Dec. 28] by Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation challenging the award of the Army’s Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA).”

The government watchdog noted it is required to issue a decision no later than April 7, 2023.

The FLRAA competition pitted two aircraft head to head: Bell’s V-280 Valor, a tiltrotor aircraft, and Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky and Boeing’s Defiant X, which features coaxial rotor blades. Both aircraft were designed to fit into the same footprint as a Black Hawk.

Paul Lemmo, Sikorsky’s president, said in a statement the team conducted “a thorough review of the information and feedback provided by the Army.”

“The data and discussions lead us to believe the proposals were not consistently evaluated to deliver the best value in the interest of the Army, our soldiers and American taxpayers,” he said.

The deal for the next-generation helicopter is worth up to $1.3 billion and is set to replace about 2,000 Black Hawk utility helicopters. FLRAA will not serve as a 1-to-1 replacement for existing aircraft, but it will take over the roles of the Black Hawk — long the workhorse of the Army for getting troops to and around the battlefield — around 2030.

The engineering and manufacturing development as well as the low-rate production phase could be worth roughly $7 billion. If the full complement of aircraft are purchased across the entire life of the fleet, the program could be worth around $70 billion to include potential foreign military sales, the Army’s program executive officer for aviation, Maj. Gen. Rob Barrie, said during a Dec. 5 media roundtable following the Army’s selection of Bell.

Army officials said the service sought to ensure the FLRAA program decision would be unassailable. Yet, Army acquisition chief Doug Bush said during the Dec. 5 briefing that the service “anticipated [a protest] potentially happening and [has] accounted for that in our timelines.”

In a statement Wednesday, an Army spokesman said the service “will comply with GAO requirements,” adding that the Army will not be making further comment.

Bell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, the Connecticut delegation on Capitol Hill said they had not “yet been able to get the answers that we need regarding how the Army came to their original decision on FLRAA.”

The statement, released by Connecticut Democrats Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Reps. Rosa DeLauro, John Larson, Joe Courtney, Jim Himes and Jahana Hayes, said the members are “hopeful that this protest action and the forthcoming process will shed light on the Army’s decision making, and that the highest level of fidelity is conducted throughout.”

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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