Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told lawmakers Tuesday the service had “considerable concerns” on the visibility into the design process for Sikorsky’s [LMT] losing bid for the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program.

During a Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing, Wormuth said the Army assessed Bell’s [TXT] V-280 Valor design offered a lower technical risk for FLRAA “even though the bid that came in from Sikorsky, from an overall dollar amount, was lower.”

The Honorable Christine Wormuth, United States Secretary of the Army, visits Fort Bragg, N.C., July 19, 2021. During her visit, the 82nd Airborne Division showcased various new technology the U.S. Army will utilize in the future, including the Infantry Squad Vehicle, the Variable Height Antenna, and the Integrated Visual Augmentation System. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Jacob Ward).

“If the technical risk is higher, a lot of the time that means the cost in the outyears is higher. The sustainment costs can be higher because they’re not appropriately baked into the competitive process,” Wormuth told the panel. “It was a best value competition. It wasn’t strictly based on price. And we in the Army had some considerable concerns about our visibility into the design process that came from Sikorsky.”

Bell’s V-280 Valor 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).

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.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who represents the state where Sikorsky is headquartered, pressed Wormuth on the Army’s decision to go with a tiltrotor design for FLRAA.

“I understand, I have parochial interests. This was a contest between Bell Textron and Sikorsky and the award went to the Bell program. But, I guess, I want to talk to you a little bit about my concerns regarding tiltrotor aircraft. My understanding is that past performance did not factor into the contract award. And this committee is going to be charged with picking up the full cost of this new program. Tiltrotor aircraft, like the V-22 Osprey, have a pretty miserable performance, reliability and safety record over the last 30 years,” Murphy said. 

Murphy said the V-22, which is built by Bell and Boeing and flown by the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, has a mission rate of 56 percent over the last five years and a $10,000 cost-per-flight hour “which is double the initial estimate.”

“What was interesting about this particular contract award is that the bid that came in from [Bell] was twice – twice – the amount of the bid that came in from Sikorsky. Layer on top of that, this history suggesting that a tiltrotor is going to end up costing our taxpayers inordinately more than even the initial bids. And I worry that we’re going to have a hard time being able to fund the full cost of this [FLRAA] award,” Murphy said.

Sikorsky unsuccessfully protested the FLRAA award decision, with a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released in April noting the Army deemed its bid with Boeing, which was $3.6 billion lower than Bell’s proposal, “unacceptable” in the architecture subfactor for engineering and design (Defense Daily, April 14).

“I can get back to you in more detail in terms of how exactly we incorporated past performance of the [V-22] Osprey into the calculations. But we absolutely emphasized the importance of having lower technical risk in the program,” Wormuth said.

Murphy had voiced concern over the FLRAA award decision prior to the GAO’s denial of Sikorsky’s protest, and said Tuesday he has been denied a briefing on the outcome from the Army “multiple” times.

“Of course, I completely support and value the important oversight role of Congress in these matters. So we want to be good partners with you in terms of being transparent. And if you have not already received a detailed briefing, now that the GAO has issued its decision, if you will, on the competition, I will certainly make sure that [Army acquisition officials] get up to talk with you about that,” Wormuth said.