November 29, 2012
The U.S. defense budget is under intense pressure as automatic spending cuts loom, but Sikorsky Aircraft says the longer-term outlook for military helicopters remains bright given several new programs getting started in the United States and strong overseas demand.
Samir Mehta, president of Sikorsky military systems, said in an interview that he is confident that two of the biggest opportunities for his company - a U.S. Air Force competition for new search and rescue helicopters and a U.S. Navy competition for new presidential helicopters - will survive, even if the Pentagon is forced to make additional budget cuts.
Sikorsky, Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N), Boeing Co (BA.N) and other weapons makers are anxiously waiting to see if Congress will avert an additional $500 billion in defense spending cuts that are due to start taking effect on January 2. Those slashes would occur on top of $487 billion in cuts already on the books.
Both cuts would phase in over 10 years. Many executives say they expect some additional cuts to military spending, even if a deal is reached to avoid the automatic budgets reductions under “sequestration.”
Stratford, Connecticut-based Sikorsky, a unit of United Technologies Corp (UTX.N), is the maker of the UH-60 Black Hawk and other helicopters.
Most defense companies expect revenue to come under pressure in coming years after more than a decade of growth in military spending. However, they do not forecast sudden declines in January, since most weapons deals stretch over many years.
The 87-year-old Sikorsky is also investing heavily to develop its new S-97 Raider helicopter in hopes that the U.S. Army will decide later this year to buy a new helicopter to replace its aging OH-58 Kiowa Warriors, rather than upgrade the existing fleet. The Kiowa Warriors are made by Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron Inc (TXT.N).
“It’s very easy to be focused on the short term in the next two to three years, and say, ‘Boy, the meteor’s coming at us and we’re headed for really tough times,’ but if you look at this industry over the next 20-30 years, it’s going to be vibrant,” Mehta told Reuters in an interview at the company’s sprawling headquarters on Tuesday.