FUTURE VERTICAL LIFT
Mehta said Sikorsky and other helicopter makers were also gearing up for what U.S. Army officials are calling “Future Vertical Lift,” a massive program that would replace many of the Black Hawks and Boeing Apache helicopters now in service.
“I know there’s short-term pressure but ... the life cycle of an aviation development program will outlive whatever short-term crisis we happen to be in at the time,” he said.
Mehta, a trained lawyer who began his career at United Technologies’ Otis Elevator unit, said the lingering uncertainty about future budgets was frustrating, but his company was focused on continuing to deliver those helicopters already on order to the U.S. military on time and on budget.
“There’s no shield against sequestration, but hopefully when they go through the process - if they go through the process ... they’ll look at performance as a key determining factor of whether or not you’ll be specifically targeted,” he said.
Pentagon officials have said that weapons programs that are over budget or behind schedule will be increasingly vulnerable to cuts as budget pressures mount.
Mehta said Pentagon officials also seemed to appreciate Sikorsky’s investment of its own funds to develop its new X2 helicopter, which is considered the fastest helicopter ever built, and a larger military prototype, the S-97.
Sikorsky, which together with Boeing dominates the U.S. military helicopter market, spent $50 million to develop the X2 - which uses two rotors and a rear propeller to overcome the aerodynamic limitations of conventional helicopters - and “healthy multiples” of that sum on the S-97, Mehta said, although he declined to give specific numbers.
He said the company would continue work on the S-97, which is expected to have its first flight in the fourth quarter of 2014, even if U.S. Army officials decide not to launch a competition to replace the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior armed scout.
In the longer term, the S-97 could be a contender for the Army’s next-generation helicopter program, or future vertical lift, which some see as the “Joint Strike Fighter” of military helicopters, Mehta said, referring to the massive and lucrative next-generation strike aircraft weapon systems for the United States and its allies.