The U.S. Army has selected the Bell V-280 Valor as its next-generation assault aircraft. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army/YouTube
Dec. 6 (UPI) -- A Texas company has won a lucrative contract to build a fleet of next-generation transport and assault helicopters for the U.S. Army in a deal that could ultimately be worth around $70 billion.
Bell Textron Inc., an aerospace manufacturer based in Fort Worth, will get $1.3 billion to phase out roughly 2,000 Black Hawk utility helicopters and about 1,200 Apache attack helicopters by 2030 as part of the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft initiative.
The new choppers, whose prototypes have been in development for several years, are among many upgrades the U.S. armed services is making to modernize its aging fleet.
From there, the price tag has the potential to grow to as much as $70 billion if the Army purchases the "full complement" of aircraft over time, according to Army Maj. Gen. Rob Barrie.
"This is our largest and most complex competitive procurement we have executed in the Army in the ... history of Army aviation," Barrie said earlier this year. "That system is going to be with us a long time; it goes without saying that we want to make sure everything is done correctly and in a disciplined manner."
The contract is the largest awarded by the U.S. Army in more than 40 years.
The new fleet will take the place of Black Hawks that are currently in operation.
The Black Hawk is the Army's primary chopper to move troops on and off the battlefield, whereas the Apache helicopter launches attacks during combat.
Bell's chief executive Scott Donnelly issued a statement on Monday saying the company is "honored that the U.S. Army has selected the Bell V-280 Valor as its next-generation assault aircraft. We intend to honor that trust by building a truly remarkable and transformational weapon system to meet the Army's mission requirements."
One of the primary aims of the FLRAA is to build a nimble, long-range strike force capable of traveling more than 2,800 miles without refueling.
"This ... represents a strategic pivot for Army Aviation to the transformational speed and range our Army needs to dominate future battlefields," said Maj. Gen. Walter Rugen, director of the Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team. "The prototyping and risk-reduction efforts allowed the Army to significantly reduce the time needed to get to today's announcement."
The Army is also planning to build a Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft to increase aerial scouting missions that have been scaled back since the military retired the Kiowa helicopter in 2013.
Before awarding the contract to Bell, the Army tested the V-280 Valor, which features twin propellers on tilting rotors, against Boeing's coaxial rotor Defiant X, as both are similar to the Black Hawk in size and build.
The Black Hawk helicopter was popularized in the 2001 film "Black Hawk Down," which was based on the surprise attack on U.S. forces in Somalia in 1993.
Earlier this year, the Army grounded its entire fleet of 400 Chinook helicopters after it was discovered that fuel leaks had been responsible for a small number of engine fires on the utility chopper.