Sikorsky's UH-60M helicopter. Sikorsky Aircraft
Sikorsky's UH-60M helicopter.
Sikorsky’s UH-60M helicopter. Sikorsky Aircraft
Sikorsky’s UH-60M helicopter. Sikorsky Aircraft

Washington – The Pentagon has given its approval for the Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. to sell 12 Black Hawk helicopters — fully equipped with Hellfire missiles and high-caliber machine guns — to the Tunisian armed forces at a cost of $700 million.

The sale is the latest attempt by Sikorsky to boost its sales of both commercial and military helicopters overseas as its largest U.S. customer, the Army, continues to shrink in size and missions.

“International sales of our helicopter products and aftermarket services are trending up,” said Sikorsky spokesman Frans Jurgens.

He said about a third of the 3,800 H-60 Black Hawk and Seahawk aircraft Sikorsky has produced since 1978 are operated by international customers.

Many of those aircraft were built in Connecticut. But to help expand overseas sales, Sikorsky has built a plant in Poland and has entered into an agreement with the Turkish government so that country can build its version of the Black Hawk.

“We are helping it industrialize,” Jurgens said of Turkey.

As far as the $700 million sale to Tunisia, it is just the latest the company has made to a foreign government. With Pentagon approval, only Congress can block the sale, and it’s not likely to do so.

“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country in North Africa,” the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said.

Sikorsky has made two separate Black Hawk sales to Mexico this year, worth about $905 million. But a proposed sale to Austria fell through.

Still, Loren Thompson, a defense analyst for the Lexington Institute, said Sikorsky “is better positioned than any other helicopter company to sell overseas.”

“The Black Hawk is the signature roto-craft for the U.S. military and they have a respected line of commercial helicopters,” Thompson said

Thompson said Boeing makes a great helicopter, the Apache, but it’s very expensive and specialized in its mission.

“It’s a tank killer and there’s limited use for a tank killer,” Thompson said. “But they all need utility helicopters like the Black Hawk.”

Jurgens said “we are seeing continued interest for additional sales of Black Hawk helicopters from several countries across Asia, Middle East, Latin America, Europe, and now North Africa. “

He said foreign buyers have several Black Hawk models to choose from. Among them are new UH-60M and HH-60M medevac aircraft available through the U.S. Army as a foreign military sale. That’s the one that will be sold to Tunisia.

For countries that prefer to buy a Black Hawk directly for Sikorsky, the new S-70 models are available. Or they can purchase rebuilt Black Hawk ‘copters from the 1980s — helicopters that the U.S. Army is retiring.

Refurbished and sold by Sikorsky, these helicopters can be operated for utility missions, including cargo and troop transport, by countries that cannot afford a new aircraft, Jurgens said.

As far as commercial overseas sales, Sikorsky has sold more than $100 million worth of S-92A helicopters that will be flown in Brazil, Norway, the United Kingdom to transport workers and equipment to and from offshore oil platforms.

There may be one snag in the company’s overseas sales. The $100 million deal on the S-92A’s was completed with the help of the Export-Import Bank, a government corporation that helps insure U.S. shipments to foreign customers and guarantee loans to foreign buyers of U.S. goods.

The Export-Import Bank’s charter is set to expire on Sept. 30 and there is not enough support in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives to renew it.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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