Friday, January 28, 2005

D-Day for Sikorsky

So maybe it isn't Sikorsky's best week for a decision to be made over which helicopter the president will fly in, considering the recent crash of a Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion in Iraq, claiming the lives of 31 Americans. While investigators figure out how the chopper went down in the sandstorm, members of the Pentagon's Defense Acquisition Board are set to announce in less than three hours the next maker of presidential helicopters. So who will it be? The Hartford Courant is reporting that an Italian newspaper, Finanza Mercati, has unnamed sources telling them the bid will go to Sikorsky. From a security standpoint, this would make sense: Does the Pentagon really have confidence that the spindles and gearboxes made in Europe by AgustaWestland will be free of terrorist tampering? As the folks at Sikorsky like to point, only they have Yankee White Clearance--access to only the most classified personnel.

That said, Sikorsky will have its work cut out for them, having to do their own system integration (something Lockheed excels at) and roll out an aircraft that is largely untested. Politically, Bush has to offer both Blair and Berlusconi a viable alternative to this lucrative (at least $1.5 billion) program, such as participation in the Joint Strike Fighter.

But should the Pentagon announce in favor of Lockheed, it will be because the US101 is considered battle-proven (a version of it is used by the Royal Marines), a known quantity based not on a commercial but military design. Sikorsky would also be in big trouble, especially if a future helicopter contract such as the PRV goes Lockheed's way. "Do you think the president is going to kill Sikorsky?" one defense analyst asked me. In short, even if they lose the Marine One bid, the Stratford-based company will get some consolation contract in return.

To be continued...

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