Sikorsky vows to stay in CT until 2042 if it wins Pentagon bid for Black Hawk replacement

Photo of Alexander Soule

With $75 million in new incentives from the state, Lockheed Martin is committing to keep its Sikorsky headquarters plant in Connecticut until at least 2042.

The agreement is pending whether Sikorsky lands the initial contract under the “Future Vertical Lift” competition by the U.S. Department of Defense for an eventual replacement to the Black Hawk long built in Stratford and Bridgeport, and other helicopters.

The Bell subsidiary of Textron Industries is offering the V-280 Valor, based on tilt-rotor technology Bell and Boeing pioneered with the V-22 Osprey.

The Connecticut incentives would be in the form of sales tax offsets and tax credits, with details on the package to be announced Tuesday. The Connecticut General Assembly would have to approve the deal. Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R- Stratford, on Monday expressed support for the package.

“Sikorsky creates thousands of jobs, is involved in our community, and drives business to many smaller manufacturers, suppliers and local mom-and-pop shops across our state,” Kelly said in a statement. “A commitment by Sikorsky to continue innovating in our state and creating opportunity is an investment in the next generation of workers and families. These are high-paying jobs and careers that offer a pathway to prosperity.”

In addition to its Stratford and Bridgeport factories, Sikorsky has offices in Shelton, Trumbull and North Haven. Sikorsky, which previously committed to stay in Connecticut until 2032, has about 8,100 employees in the state, according to Lockheed Martin.

Sikorsky and Boeing are vying to have the Defiant-X become the next workhorse of the U.S. military when the current fleet of Black Hawk and Seahawk helicopters reach the end of their life cycles. Sikorsky has conducted test flights of a prototype it calls SB>1 Defiant; in a video posted online in January, Sikorsky and Boeing showed SB>1 Defiant pilots executing landings and low-level flight in wooded terrain similar to missions Black Hawks perform regularly for the U.S. Army.

“It’s worth remembering that Sikorsky has been an amazing partner, an anchor tenant, for the state of Connecticut going on almost 100 years,” Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday from New Haven during a virtual press conference. “This is the next generation of vertical lift — the next generation of choppers — where we believe that Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky is the front-runner as the incumbent.”

Paul Lemmo, president of Sikorsky, told Hearst Connecticut Media Group late last year the company expects a DOD decision by the middle of this year. The manufacturer has been upgrading its Stratford plant in preparation for mass production of the CH-53K helicopter for the Marine Corps.

Last week, Lamont repeated his past stance of limiting corporate incentives as a way to attract jobs. But in the case of Sikorsky, one of the state’s largest manufacturers, the opportunity to solidify a manufacturing center to produce helicopters for a half century or more was too big to pass up.

David Lehman, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, said Lockheed Martin mentioned no plan to move work out of Connecticut if it did not receive the incentive package.

Lockheed Martin representatives did not say Monday whether the company sought more than what the Lamont administration offered.

“This is the next generation and beyond of helicopter production, and we wanted to do everything we can to ensure that Sikorsky’s bid was the winning bid,” Lehman said. “There’s a significant economic benefit ... to Connecticut for Sikorsky to win.”

Sikorsky has been flying the Defiant-X’s prototype since 2019. The stacked rotor sets that were are the helicopter’s defining feature were developed a decade earlier by Sikorsky while owned by United Technologies, which sold Sikorsky in 2015 to Lockheed Martin for $9 billion.

That same year, former Gov. Dan Malloy assembled a $220 million incentive package to keep Sikorsky in Connecticut through 2032, a period covering the bulk of a contract to produce as many as 200 King Stallion helicopters for the Marines.

But any Defiant-X contract would far exceed that number for the U.S. Army and Navy, with the U.S. Department of Defense having yet to indicate how many aircraft it would field. Sikorsky has built more than 4,000 Black Hawk Seahawk and variant helicopters since the 1970s, supporting its plants in Stratford and Bridgeport that employ a total of more than 7,000 people.

The Pentagon wants to adapt any design it selects to other aircraft, with Sikorsky having already promoted a variant called the Raider-X as an armed scout helicopter.

By spinning the rotor sets in opposite directions, the design provides improved stability and maneuverability, while allowing for a rear “pusher” propeller to increase speed.

The Russian military has an existing helicopter using stacked rotor sets, which it has been deploying during its invasion of Ukraine.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the SB1>Defiant performed the test flights.

Dan Haar and Ken Dixon contributed to this report.

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman