WASHINGTON — The Army and Bell Textron are cleared to proceed with the V-280 Valor tiltrotor as the new Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) after the The Government Accountability Office today denied Sikorsky-Boeing’s award protest.
“In denying the protest, the GAO concluded that the Army reasonably assessed Sikorsky’s proposal as technically unacceptable because Sikorsky failed to provide the level of architectural detail required by the (request for proposal) RFP,” Kenneth Patton, managing associate general counsel for the acquisition law. at GAO, he wrote in a brief statement sent today.
A full report on that decision is not yet publicly available, but Patton explained that the Sikorsky-Boeing team questioned several areas of the Army’s FLRAA decision, including: evaluation factors related to “engineering design and development” and the architecture; He “argued” that the service should have he considered Bell’s proposal “unacceptable”; challenged the cost/price assessment; and the best value compensation decision.
“GAO also denied Sikorsky’s various allegations about the acceptability of Bell’s proposal, including the claim that the agency’s evaluation violated the terms of the application or applicable contracting law or regulation,” Patton wrote.
“GAO’s decision does not express any opinion on the merits of these proposals,” he added later. “Judgments about which bidder will most successfully meet the government’s needs are reserved for recruitment agencies, subject only to legal and regulatory requirements.”
Despite today’s decision, the Sikorsky-Boeing team said it still believes it submitted the “most capable, affordable and lowest risk” design and is unwilling to walk away from the deal worth up to $70 billion.
“We will review the GAO’s decision and determine our next steps,” the team added.
A Bell spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
In a brief statement, the Army Aviation Program Executive Office thanked the GAO for its “thorough review” and for upholding the service’s contracting decision.
“The FLRAA source selection board followed a deliberate and rigorous process,” the Army added. “GAO’s decision demonstrates that we determined the proposal that represented the best value for the Army and taxpayers, and we look forward to reviewing the full GAO report.”
A long awaited decision
The GAO’s decision comes after it spent more than three months weighing Sikorsky-Boeing’s protest of the Army’s decision in early December 2022 to eschew the Defiant X in favor of The V-280 Valor tiltrotator from Bell Textron. What is at stake in the competition: the right to eventually replace thousands of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and reshape the global market for military helicopters.
Maj. Gen. Robert Barrie, Executive Officer of the Army Aviation Program, said after the Valor victory that the service used a “best value approach” in making its decision.
“Using … the requirements that the Army had for us, we then did an assessment with people across the company to move toward a set of factors that would provide a best-value approach for the Army,” the two-star general said.
While he declined to explain those factors, Barrie stressed that the service conducted a “thorough analysis of a variety of factors.” Based on that decision, the Army awarded Bell a deal worth up to $1.3 billion with the initial obligation valued at $232 million over the next 19 months. It also tasked the company with moving forward with the preliminary design of the aircraft and delivering “virtual prototypes of a potentially model-based system,” Barrie explained.
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Bell won’t build an actual aircraft during that period, but if the program goes ahead as planned, the Army may order an unspecified amount of Value in a deal worth up to $70 billion.
Given the stakes for this program, many analysts anticipated that the The Sikorsky-Boeing team would appeal the decision. By In late December, he filed an initial protest with the Government Accountability Office, before filing an additional one on February 6.
“Based on a thorough review of the information and comments provided by the Army, Lockheed Martin Sikorsky, on behalf of Team Defiant, challenges the FLRAA’s decision,” the team wrote in a December 28 statement. “The data and discussions lead us to believe that the proposals were not consistently evaluated to deliver the best value in the interest of the Army, our soldiers, and American taxpayers.”
The team ensured that Defiant X was more the “capable, affordable and lower risk solution.”
Prior to today’s release, a sikorsky The spokesman declined to provide Breaking Defense with additional details about the team’s protest. However, in recent months Lawmakers in Connecticut, where Sikorsky is based, have publicly criticized the service’s decision.
“Despite direct engagement with the Army, we as members of Congress have yet to get the answers we need regarding how the Army arrived at its original FLRAA decision. This is unacceptable,” seven House and Senate legislators wrote in a December 29, 2022 statement. “It is our hope that this protest action and the upcoming process will shed light on Army decision-making and that the highest level of fidelity is carried out at all times.”
One of those lawmakers, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, has posted subsequent opinion pieces in various publications, including one on March 2 in military.com. In it, Murphy claimed the Army He has yet to inform lawmakers of his FLRAA pick and said he won’t until the protest is resolved.
Today’s decision comes at a time when lawmakers are holding initial hearings on the Army’s fiscal year 2024 budget request. In it, the service details a plan to spend $622 million on research and development of the acquisition effort. FLRAA mid-tier project between FY22 and FY25, while requesting $958 million in FY24 for the purchase of FLRAA hardware and software “required” for the prototype.
The service plans to start buying the aircraft in fiscal year 27 and said it will request $572 million for that year, it continues$613 million owed for FY28, according to budget justification documents.
it is not clear if Connecticut lawmakers will continue to criticize the Army’s decision and possibly block FLRAA funding for years to come.
This story may be updated with new information.