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Rival firms Lockheed, Sikorsky team up to build fleet of Marine One helicopters

The current Marine One fleet is made up of two dozen helicopters.
The current Marine One fleet is made up of two dozen helicopters. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/associated Press)
By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin said Monday that it will team with rival Sikorsky Aircraft of Stratford, Conn., to bid on building a new fleet of Marine One presidential helicopters.

Both companies have experience building the helicopters. Sikorsky, a division of United Technologies, began building them in 1957 but lost the deal to build a new fleet five years ago to a team made up of AgustaWestland and Lockheed. Last year, however, the Navy canceled that contract after repeated cost overruns and delays. The original plan was for 19 to 28 helicopters to replace a fleet of more than two dozen, but it is unclear how many will be ordered now.

Under the new partnership, Sikorsky would design and manufacture the aircraft at its facility in Stratford, while Lockheed would outfit the helicopters with systems and electronics at its plant in Owego, N.Y. The two companies currently produce Naval Hawk helicopters for the military.

"We're thrilled to team with Lockheed Martin to provide taxpayers and the U.S. government with a common-sense solution for the next presidential aircraft both in terms of economy and technology," said Scott Starrett, president of Sikorsky Military Systems.

Dan Spoor, Lockheed's vice president for aviation systems, said a combined effort on the contract will allow "our team to offer a low-risk transport solution to the office of the president."

Defense industry analysts say the combined team is unique, given their history of rivalry for the contract.

"It's an alliance between two companies that went against each other in one of the most brutal and heavily politicized competitions," said Richard Aboulafia, a defense industry analyst at the Teal Group. "Now they've looked at the requirement and the new budget and they've decided it is to their advantage to rearrange the teams."

Other defense companies that are expected to bid on the helicopter contract include Boeing, Textron's Bell Helicopter and Finmeccanica SpA's AgustaWestland, industry analysts said.

Loren Thompson, a defense consultant to contractors including Lockheed, said the Lockheed-Sikorsky team will be hard to beat because "Sikorsky has more experience than any other company in building and supporting presidential helicopters, while Lockheed has recently pulled together all of the cutting-edge technologies needed to develop a future White House copter."

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