The contract also includes the first four helicopters that will be built for the program. The Air Force ultimately plans to buy a total of 112 aircraft, which could boost the contract’s total value to $7.9 billion.
The CRH-60 will replace the Air Force’s aging HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter, which entered service in 1982 and has been credited with rescuing thousands of people.
“Over the last 10 years, the Air Force has discussed upgrading the platform that performs this sacred mission for all Department of Defense personnel who go into harm’s way,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said. “This mission is part of the military ethos, and the Air Force is committed to providing it.”
The new personnel-recovery helicopter will be based on the UH-60M Black Hawk. Sikorsky has delivered more than 700 H-60M Black Hawks to the U.S. government and foreign militaries since 2007.
Sikorsky, based in Stratford, Conn., was the only company that submitted a bid in response to the Air Force solicitation for the new program. Its team includes Lockheed Martin as the major subsystems supplier.
The program enjoys strong Capitol Hill support. In December 2013, 74 House members sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urging that he fund the new helicopter.
But financial hurdles remain. James warned in March that the program could be in jeopardy if deep federal budget cuts known as sequestration return next year.