Army Black Hawk decision shortsighted
For nearly half a century, Teamster workers at Sikorsky Aircraft have produced the Black Hawk helicopter for the U.S. armed forces, our allies and partners, solidifying it as the preeminent rotary-winged aircraft in the world.
As part of a massive modernization effort, the Army has been conducting a “competition” to develop the next-generation aircraft expected to provide performance capabilities far beyond the current air assault mission statement.
The experience and knowhow of literally generations of union workers should position Sikorsky Aircraft as the easy choice for this new program, the Army’s Future Long Range Assault Aircraft, or FLRAA. However, the Army has chosen Bell’s Valor V-280 tiltrotor aircraft over the Defiant X, a coaxial helicopter featuring two counter-rotating blades with a pusher prop, offered by Sikorsky and Boeing, that represents an enormous technological capability over existing technology.
The Army’s FLRAA decision puts the defense industrial base at great risk by essentially scrapping decades of vertical flight experience. This stagnates helicopter development in the defense industry for the next 40-plus years, because these Teamster workers ARE the industrial base.
Bell’s Valor, a tiltrotor aircraft similar to the V-22 Osprey, is not a helicopter. Although able to move fast and travel far, it falls short in every other category, especially maneuvering in tight spaces and landing in limited zones, which even the Black Hawk does better.
The Black Hawk wasn’t designed or intended for one theater of operation. It has supported operations from the Arctic Circle to the equator, from deserts to jungles, as all Army helicopters have done. It has served in counter-terror and anti-insurgency operations, search and rescue missions, and as a critical part of peer and near-peer deterrence. For the Army to choose an aircraft that promises far less diversity makes no sense from a mission perspective. The longevity of the Black Hawk has been due to its versatility and its dependability, a successful formula that should be applied to its replacement.
Simply put, the Army’s choice does not consider the whole range of conflicts, both anticipated and unanticipated. The Army needs a new, sustainable helicopter design rather than a placeholder that exists until the next national security priority comes around. The Army needs a helicopter that is versatile enough to persist regardless of the national security challenge, that will be rolling off assembly lines for a generation because of the demand from all services, and from our partners and allies around the world.
Not only does the Army’s decision abandon a large part of America’s increasingly fragile defense industrial base and ignore the enormous strides our Teamster workers have made in using digital technology in advanced manufacturing, such as modular opensystem architecture, 3D printing, and digital twins to innovate faster, cheaper and better, but it hands the American taxpayers an unnecessarily hefty bill.
My understanding is that the Army chose a Bell program with an initial price tag that is shockingly higher than the Sikorsky/Boeing offering. This is without considering the transition cost of retooling Army infrastructure like maintenance facilities, flight hangars, training facilities and more. This is taxpayer money that could be used for other aviation priorities like the upcoming Future Attack and Reconnaissance Aircraft program.
The Army says it made its decision based on a “best value” determination. How can a source selection that is significantly higher by orders of magnitude be a “best value?” The Government Accountability Office and Congress need to examine the Army’s decision carefully and ask the right questions. Was that criteria followed? What are the implications to the defense rotorcraft industrial base? And what is the true value to the taxpayer?
Based on the data and information that we have, it is our belief that the proposals were not consistently evaluated to deliver the best value in the interest of the Army, our soldiers or the American taxpayers. The Teamsters fully support the decision by the Sikorsky/Boeing team to protest the Army’s FLRAA decision. The American defense industrial base and good-paying, advanced manufacturing jobs are at stake, as is the Army’s ability to effectively accomplish its missions.
Rocco Calo is the principal officer of Teamsters Local 1150, the union that represents the workers at Sikorsky Aircraft. He is also an Eastern region vice president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, as well as its director of industrial trades.