Sikorsky’s Black Hawk Replacement Bid Cost Half Of Bell’s But Lacked Info To Back It Up
Sikorsky recently lost a protest against Bell’s contract award for the FLRAA tender, arguing unsuccessfully that its bid was unfairly judged.
Sikorsky's losing proposal, submitted together with Boeing, for replacing at least a significant portion of the U.S. Army H-60 Black Hawk helicopters was roughly half the cost of the bid from Bell. However, the Army contended that it could not assess how realistic the Sikorsky/Boeing cost figure was, as well as other aspects of the pitch, because of a lack of key technical data. Bell won the competition to design and build what is currently known as the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, or FLRAA, in December 2022.
New details about the two competing bids are contained in a detailed report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a Congressional watchdog. The document explains GAO's decision to deny a protest from Sikorsky, which Lockheed Martin acquired in 2015, over the FLRAA contract award to Bell. The review was published following GAO's formal announcement about the denial of the protest on April 6.
For FLRAA, Bell had offered a derivative of its V-280 Valor tilt-rotor aircraft. Sikorsky/Boeing's proposal centered on the Defiant X, an advanced compound helicopter that was based on a demonstrator design known as the SB>1 Defiant. The Army had already evaluated the V-280 and the SB>1 under its earlier Joint Multi-Role (JMR) advanced technology demonstration program.
The War Zone has previously explored in detail the relative pros and cons of both designs, and what considerations the Army was faced with in making its decision, including those surrounding cost.
Now we know that Bell's bid was $8.087 billion, while Sikorsky/Boeing's was $4.445 billion from the GAO's report. Both costs are described as Value Added Total Evaluated Prices (VATEP), which takes into account offsets baked in the respective proposals, including the value of technical data rights that would be given to the Army.
The total projected cost was one of a number of key factors the Army used to evaluate both offers. The table below provides a general overview of major criteria the service used to assess the offers from Sikorsky/Boeing and Bell and how they were rated in the end on these points.
We don't know whether or not the Sikorsky/Boeing cost figure is realistic. This was very much central to the Army's selection of the Bell proposal and the dispute at the core of the subsequent bid protest.
Essentially, the Army contended that the Sikorsky/Boeing team did not submit certain high-level technical data about its proposed Defiant X design. Sikorsky, who submitted the protest on its own, argued that it was not required to submit this information, and therefore that its offer was not appropriately evaluated. As can be seen in the criteria table above, even with this issue, the Army deemed Sikrosky's bid acceptable in all categories except "architecture."
In the simplest terms, "architecture" here refers to the functions of various systems within the proposed design and how they would be expected to work together. The Army's wanted detailed information in this regard, among other things, to help assess potential points of risk that might lead to delays, cost growth, or other issues.
Details about the proposed architecture of the design were also important because of the Army's emphasis on an overarching modular open systems approach (MOSA) for FLRAA.
"MOSA allows various parts of the system to be added, removed, modified, replaced, or sustained by different parts of the military and their suppliers without significantly impacting the rest of the system," GAO's review of the bid protest explains. "This approach provides numerous cost, schedule, and performance benefits; as explained in the RFP, '[b]y utilizing [MOSA], the FLRAA system expects improved lifecycle affordability, increased readiness, enhanced capabilities, reduced schedule pressure, and reduced supply chain risk.'"
Altogether, architecture was something of a pass/fail requirement for the Army when picking the winning FLRAA offer. "The highest possible rating for the architecture subfactor was 'acceptable,' because no strengths could be awarded for exceeding requirements under this subfactor," according to GAO.
The Army deemed the Sikorsky/Boeing offer "unacceptable" when it came to architecture. The service provided GAO with a relatively damning description of what it felt the Defiant team had submitted in this regard compared to what it asked for.
"Sikorsky’s proposal provided something similar to a drawing of what the house looked like on the outside, a basic indication of the size and shape of the house," according to the report. "Such a picture did not provide the functional detail that the Army required showing what the space would look like on the inside (i.e., how the system functions would be allocated to different areas of the system--for example, that food storage and preparation would be allocated to a space for the kitchen)."
"The functional architecture provided by [Sikorsky] did not demonstrate an adequate approach to meet the requirements of the solicitation and deferred the work scope to the Weapon System Development Program where the functional architecture would be more fully defined," the Army also told GAO. "These significant weaknesses and weaknesses resulted from insufficient evidence and inadequately defined scope to determine how [Sikorsky’s] proposed architecture would meet the government’s MOSA and architecture requirements... and presents a cost and schedule impact resulting in an unacceptable risk during the Weapon System Development Program."
The "weaknesses resulted from insufficient evidence" include the ability the assess the legitimacy of the Sikorsky/Boeing cost projections.
"[Sikorsky’s] cost realism could not be fully assessed due to their unacceptable approach, which is therefore indicative of cost and performance risk," the Army also told GAO, according to the latter's report. "In contrast, [Bell’s] proposed price, in comparison to the design’s [independent government estimate], is reasonable and provides the best value to the government."
GAO agreed with the Army's reasoning on these points and others in making its own decision to deny Sikorsky's protest. It is, of course, worth noting that because of the lack of appropriate technical data, whether or not the projected costs for the Defiant X bid were realistic remains unknown.
"GAO’s decision expresses no view as to the merits of these proposals," the office made very clear in its initial announcement about denying Sikorsky's protest back on April 6. "Judgments about which offeror will most successfully meet the government’s needs are reserved for the procuring agencies, subject only to statutory and regulatory requirements."
Whatever the case, since GAO's decision, Sikorsky has decided not to pursue further legal action over the FLRAA contract award.
“We are disappointed with the Government Accountability Office decision and remain convinced that our DEFIANT X offering represented both the best value for the taxpayer and the transformational technology that our warfighters need to execute their complex missions. We value our long-standing partnership with the U.S. Army, and serving their missions remains our top priority,” a Lockheed Martin spokesperson said in a statement earlier this week, according to the Connecticut Mirror. “We are focused on driving innovation and delivering the transformational RAIDER X for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, modernized Black Hawks and future technology critical to mission readiness for the United States and Allied nations."
Sikorsky designed the original Black Hawk and remains the prime contractor for variants and derivatives of the still very popular H-60/S-70 design.
The Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) program is a separate Army effort intended to provide the service with a new armed scout helicopter to supplant roughly half of the service's AH-64 Apache attack helicopter fleet currently serving in this role. Interestingly Sikorsky is competing against Bell for the FARA contract, as well, but the situation is something of a reverse compared to FLRAA.
Bell's FARA entrant, the 360 Invictus, appears to be the far simpler and cheaper of the two options. The War Zone has previously laid out reasons for why the Army might choose the more advanced Raider X compound helicopter, based on the same X2 technology as the Defiant X, to meet its requirements for this program and as a complement to the V-280-based FLRAA.
The Army's FLRAA decision now seems to be settled for good. Still, the GAO's report on the separate decision to deny Sikorsky's protest provides interesting additional insights into how it came to that choice and about the two bids, including their projected costs.
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