Lockheed Martin’s [LMT] Sikorsky is looking to long term upgrades and modernization of the UH-60 Black Hawk over the coming decades while the Army conducts a last multi-year contract and transitions to the Future Vertical Lift fleet.

“We are negotiating our final multi-year contract, known as multi-year 10, that shows you how long the Black Hawk’s been in production. So this will provide us another five years of production starting in ‘22. At least right now that’s anticipated to be the final production for the U.S. Army,” Sikorsky President Paul Lemmo told reporters during a roundtable Tuesday at the annual Association of the United States Army (AUSA) conference.

Lemmo added he expects the contract to be awarded in the first part of 2022 to cover fiscal years 2022 through 2026.

He also noted the company still has “very robust international sales” alongside that and expects those to continue long after the last multi-year U.S. Army contract is over, which is set to end in FY 2026.

Last month, the Senate Armed Service Committee’s version of the FY ‘22 defense policy bill was filed and supported the Army’s intention to negotiate final multi-year contracts on the Black Hawk as well as Boeing’s [BA] AH-64E Apache as the service moves on to the Future Vertical Lift fleets (Defense Daily, Sept. 23).

The Senate bill report said multi-year contracts for new Apaches and Black Hawks may potentially save $405.4 million total over the five year period.

The Army first confirmed it was pursuing the last multi-year contracts for the helicopters last March (Defense Daily, March 17).

Lemmo said that when they hear Army leadership talk about the Black Hawk and Apache helicopters they call them part of their enduring fleet, not legacy fleet.

He said the Army distinguishes the terms because “in their mind, the enduring fleet is going to stay around. And we’ve been told the Black Hawk’s going to be around for probably at least another 30 years.”

“And so there’s going to be a modernization program at some point. We’re already starting to think about that,” he continued.

Lemmo said he believes the most important thing the Army will want to see in a Black Hawk modernization is open systems architecture.

“So we’ve been working on that extensively, to be able to open up the [UH-60M] model architecture, And that new backbone would really allow the Army to make upgrades for the remainder of the life of the aircraft and do it much more rapidly and have third parties be able to do the integration – they wouldn’t always have to come to us to do it.”

Beyond those software changes, Lemmo said the company would eventually look at extending or replacing the aircraft structure, specifically the cabin.

“How does that get life extended or replaced or whatever the case may be. But Black Hawks [are] going to be around for a long time…and we would expect some sort of modernization and [recapitalization] program down the line and we’re already working on ideas that we have for that and engaging with the Army to discuss it.”