Thailand is to purchase two Black Hawk helicopters, joining a growing list of export customers that could help buffer the manufacturer against possible U.S. defense budget cuts.
The Royal Thai Army has signed a letter of offer and acceptance to acquire the two helicopters through the U.S. government’s foreign military sales (FMS) channel.
The latest FMS deal, the first in Asia, comes as Sikorsky prepares to sign the second UH-60M multi-year procurement contract with the U.S. Army, for approximately 300 aircraft over five years.
But whether the Army will be able to hold to the planned quantities will depend on what happens in Washington with the threat of so-called sequestration, which could force deep budget cuts on the Pentagon.
“If there is no sequestration, we have a plan,” says new Sikorsky President Mick Maurer. “We have not yet added in sequestration because first it has to happen.
“FMS gives us a little bit of flexibility in the near-term profile. We could pull aircraft forward to offset [reductions] in U.S. government [procurement],” he says.
But the flexibility is only “on the margin,” Maurer says, because of the time required to develop and install customization packages for FMS customers and procurement planning timelines of individual countries.
In addition to FMS deals for the UH-60M, the company is making direct commercial sales of the S-70i international version of the Black Hawk assembled in Poland by subsidiary PZL Mielec.
PZL is delivering 12 aircraft to Bahrain, and Maurer says Sikorsky has just signed a contract with “a South American customer” for an initial five S-70is. “They want a lot more,” he says, adding negotiations are under way with “a few other countries.”
All S-70i sales so far have been commercial, but discussions are under way with the U.S. Army to obtain airworthiness release to also sell the aircraft via the government-to-government FMS system, he says.
In addition to being lighter and cheaper than the UH-60M, the S-70i is built “on spec,” Maurer says, allowing Sikorsky to offer customers a shorter lead time.
The S-70i also gives the company more flexibility to customize the aircraft, and to offer an “industrial footprint” in some countries. Turkey has selected the S-70i, although a contract has yet to be signed, and the country plans to assemble the helicopters in Ankara.