In what could be its last purchase of Black Hawk helicopters, the U.S. Army on Monday placed a $2.3 billion order with Sikorsky for at least 120 aircraft.
The five-year deal comes just months before the Army is expected to choose a winner to build a replacement for the UH-60, which has been the military’s workhorse for more than four decades.
“This multi-year agreement allows the Army to meet current and future capability needs through upgrades, remanufacturing, replacement, and technology insertions,” Col. Calvin Lane, the Army’s utility helicopters project manager, said in an emailed statement. “The efficiencies of this contract make the best use of limited resources and result in direct savings to the Army and to taxpayers.”
It’s the 10th time the Army has placed what’s known as a multiyear procurement. If all of the options are exercised, the 120-helicopter order could more than double, resulting in 255 aircraft for the Army and allies.
“Sikorsky continues to modernize and enhance the Black Hawk to meet the Army’s challenging and evolving missions by continuously delivering aircraft, thanks to a hot production line, mature well-established supply chain, and digital factory,” the company said in a statement after the announcement was made.
The United States and 28 of its allies currently fly Black Hawks. The helicopter has been in the U.S. arsenal since the late 1970s. The Army uses the Black Hawk for troop transport and medevac missions, the Navy uses it for hunting submarines, the Marine Corps uses a small fleet to occasionally fly the president, and the Air Force uses them for combat search and rescue. U.S. Special Operations Command flies specially modified Black Hawks, including some that were used during the 2011 raid to kill Osama bin Laden. Domestically, the aircraft are used by the National Guard for search-and-rescue missions and disaster response.
Even if the Army doesn’t buy any new Black Hawks, the helicopters are expected to keep flying for decades to come. Sikorsky said it’s planning to up those remaining aircraft.
“Sikorsky continues to invest in the Black Hawk platform—from sustainment to digital transformation and modernization—in order to provide our customers with the competitive edge they require,” Nathalie Previte, Sikorsky’s vice president of Army and Air Force programs, said in the statement.
Ultimately, Congress will have the final say on when the Army buys more Black Hawks. In March, the Air Force announced plans to truncate its buy of new Black Hawks, saying the helicopters were not needed now that the U.S. has drastically scaled back its military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan, after more than two decades of a constant presence. Still, at least one Congressional panel disagreed, adding additional HH-60Ws to the Air Force’s fiscal 2023 budget request.
The Army is expected to choose a winner in September in the competition to replace the Black Hawk. Sikorsky, which is part of Lockheed Martin, has teamed up with Boeing to pitch a coaxial rotor helicopter called the Defiant-X in the Army contest. Its competition is the Bell V-280 Valor—a tiltrotor aircraft that takes off and lands vertically, but can rotate its propellers in flight to fly at fixed-wing aircraft speeds.
Congress has been reluctant to let a service retire aircraft or shut down active assembly lines until there is a proven successor.