The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has denied Sikorsky’s [LMT] protest of the Army’s Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) award, clearing Bell [TXT] to move ahead on the potential $7 billion program.

“In denying the protest, GAO concluded that the Army reasonably evaluated Sikorsky’s proposal as technically unacceptable because Sikorsky failed to provide the level of architectural detail required by the [Request for Proposal],” the agency wrote in its decision on Thursday. “GAO also denied Sikorsky’s various allegations about the acceptability of Bell’s proposal, including the assertion that the agency’s evaluation violated the terms of the solicitation or applicable procurement law or regulation. Finally, GAO dismissed Sikorsky’s additional arguments on the basis that Sikorsky was no longer an interested party to further challenge the procurement.”

Sikorsky-Boeing’s Defiant X

Bell’s V-280 Valor tiltrotor aircraft design was named the winner of the FLRAA competition on Dec. 5, beating out a Sikorsky and Boeing [BA] team’s Defiant X coaxial rigid rotor helicopter offering for the program to find an eventual UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter replacement (Defense Daily, Dec. 5).

Sikorsky then filed a protest on the award outcome with GAO in late December, saying at the time “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” (Defense Daily, Jan. 3). 

“We remain confident the Lockheed Martin Sikorsky and Boeing team submitted the most capable, affordable and lowest-risk Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft solution. We will review the GAO’s decision and determine our next steps,” Sikorsky and Boeing said in a joint statement on Thursday following GAO’s announcement. 

While GAO did not release a full public version of its decision on Thursday, a summary said Sikorsky’s protest challenged that its proposal had been deemed unacceptable for several categories to include “the engineering design and development evaluation factor, architecture subfactor, which ultimately rendered the proposal ineligible for award.”

“Sikorsky also argued that the agency should have found Bell’s proposal to be unacceptable,” GAO wrote in the summary of its decision. “Finally, Sikorsky challenged the agency’s evaluation under the engineering design and development factor and the product supportability factor; the cost/price evaluation; and the best-value tradeoff decision.”

The Army’s initial FLRAA deal to Bell is worth up to $1.3 billion but could total $7 billion if all options are picked up, which would include delivery of prototype aircraft and the first lot of low-rate initial production platforms (Defense Daily, Dec. 6). 

“This decision validates the U.S. Army’s historic choice to modernize its air assault fleet with the flight-proven speed, range, and versatility delivered by Bell’s V-280 Valor. The Army followed a deliberate process throughout the competition, and we are excited to get to work as the Army’s partner in modernizing its aviation fleet,” Bell said in a statement to Defense Daily.

Doug Bush, the Army’s top acquisition official, told reporters at the time of the contract announcement in December the service factored a potential protest of the award into its planned program timeline.

The FLRAA award decision has drawn particular interest from Connecticut lawmakers, to include Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), with Sikorsky headquartered in the state.

“The Army’s decision to award the contract to Bell, even though its product is reportedly WAY more expensive than the Sikorsky product, is going to end up bilking American taxpayers,” Murphy, a new member of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, wrote in a social media post.

In a social media post from Feb. 2, Murphy said the Army has declined Congress’ request for a briefing on the FLRAA award four times.

The Army has said its plan is to have Bell deliver the first physical prototypes for FLRAA in 2025.