After flirting with various contractors for months, Boeing has chosen to team with Sikorsky to propose technology for the U.S. Army's Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator Phase I program.
The companies announced their teaming today after signing an agreement Jan. 13.
The pair will now compete against a Bell Helicopter-led team to build and fly one or more demonstrators in 2017. These demonstrators will help the Army decide what type of technology path to take to address a future vertical lift requirement. Boeing had explored concepts of a massive tandem rotor design, while Sikorsky is pushing its X2 coaxial rotor design.
“The Sikorsky and Boeing team brings together exceptional technical expertise,” Mick Maurer, president of Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., says in the press announcement. “Our customer can be assured this collaboration will bring together innovative, industry-leading engineering expertise with a deep bench of program leadership talent, and builds upon the combined resources of both companies to deliver a revolutionary capability for the warfighter at an affordable cost for the U.S. taxpayer.”
The Army’s goal is for vertical lift combined with speed in order to swiftly support forced distributed on future battlefields. However, JMR is a technology demonstration project alone. Through Phase I, the Army plans to fund two demonstrators. Phase II will eventually explore mission systems options.
Fiscal pressure could impede the service’s ability to fulfill those plans, depending on how affordable the proposed designs can be built and maintained, through a follow-on program.
Bell had been in a strategic alliance with Boeing to explore concepts for JMR until now. “We are exploring new technologies and business relationships with a number of prospective partners and suppliers to ensure we bring to bear our nation's best engineering resources, industrial capabilities and critical thinking to address the Army's needs,” says Robert Hastings, a spokesman for Bell. Bell and Boeing will continue their longstanding relationship building and supporting the V-22 Osprey fleet for the Maine Corps and Air Force.
Bell is proposing a tiltrotor design, building off of lessons from the V-22.
One industry executive says Boeing’s flirtations with various companies – Boeing had also agreed on joint study work with Eurocopter, owned by its global rival EADS – is “very typical Boeing behavior” before the company selects a partner.
In the end, the Boeing/Sikorsky team will be formidable given the extensive rotorcraft, technology development and program management work shared between the two.