(Adds Bell CEO statement)
By Idrees Ali and Mike Stone
WASHINGTON, Dec 5 (Reuters) - The U.S. Army on Monday awarded the contract for its next-generation helicopter to Textron Inc's Bell unit, ending a years-long competition for the technology that will replace the Black Hawk utility helicopter.
The Army's "Future Vertical Lift" competition aimed at finding a replacement as the Army looks to retire more than 2,000 medium-class UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters built by Sikorsky since the 1970s.
The Army was looking for an aircraft capable of moving about a dozen troops 400 nautical miles. "We are ready to equip soldiers with the speed and range they need to compete and win using the most mature, reliable, and affordable high-performance long-range assault weapon system," Mitch Snyder, CEO of Bell said in a statement.
The Army said the initial award was for $232 million, but the first batch of helicopters in low rate production will be worth $7.1 billion. Ultimately, the contract is potentially worth around $70 billion - over decades - depending on how many the Army and U.S. allies order, the Army told reporters on Monday evening.
"The thoughtful and disciplined execution of the FLRAA (Future Long Range Assault Aircraft) program strategy will deliver the transformational capabilities we need to support the Joint force, strengthen deterrence and win in multi-domain operations," said Doug Bush, assistant secretary of the army for acquisition, logistics, and technology.
In the FLARAA competition was Bell's V-280 "Valor," a tiltrotor aircraft that has reached speeds in excess of 340 mph (547 km) according to the Army. It beat out the entrant from Lockheed Martin's Sikorsky and Boeing Co's SB-1 "Defiant" which has two coaxial rotors and a single pusher propeller and has reached speeds of 265 mph, according to the Army.
Often defense procurement awards of this magnitude are protested. Bush said "we planned for that contingency, but that is completely up to the vendor." It is likely that if a protest were to be filed it would be in several weeks once administrative meetings occurred.
Textron's shares rose about 8.5% in trading after the bell on the news. (Reporting by Mike Stone and Idrees Ali; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Stephen Coates)