MD Helicopters takes FARA protest to court

By Ashley Tressel  / April 17, 2019

MD Helicopters, denied by the Government Accountability Office, is taking the Army to federal court over the service's rejection of the company's proposal for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft competitive prototype.

The company filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court for Arizona on April 5, one day after GAO denied its protest of the Army's decision to remove MD Helicopters from the FARA competition.

GAO said it dismissed the protest because the office does not review protests of awards to be made using other transaction agreements.

In the April 5 court filing, which also names Army Secretary Mark Esper, acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan and the United States as defendants, MD Helicopters says the Army notified it on March 1 its proposed design did not meet the service's requirements and "was not advanced for evaluation."

According to the filing, the Army's requirements include a mandatory cruise speed of 180 knots true air speed and that prototypes be equipped with a mandatory Increment 1 engine, the Improved Turbine Engine.

The filing says the Army told MD it did not advance in the competition because the company's MD969 Twin Attack Helicopter failed to meet these requirements, and the service could not sufficiently assess whether the aircraft could meet its range, payload and endurance requirements.

However, MD Helicopters claims its proposal was not the MD969 but what it calls the “SwiftX, which will be derived from the MD969.”

"The Army failed to properly evaluate the proposal," the complaint states. "Although the Army claims to have applied the solicitation's evaluation criteria, it arbitrarily and capriciously ignored or misunderstood important aspects of the proposal."

MD Helicopters owner and chief executive Lynn Tilton told Inside Defense during the Army Aviation Association of America's annual summit in Nashville, TN, this week the SwiftX would meet all of the Army's requirements and include its proprietary no tail rotor anti-torque system.

According to reports from last month's Helicopter Association International Heli-Expo in Atlanta, MD was planning to have a SwiftX prototype built by January 2020, which the company argues in the filing would have made it eligible within the Army's terms to be considered for a preliminary design downselect.

Tilton said Tuesday she hopes the filing will get the Army's attention and put MD Helicopters back in the competition.

Public documents show the Army has not yet responded to the complaint. The service was immediately unavailable for comment.