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Sikorsky jobs outlook uncertain in Palm Beach County after U.S. Army kills program

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A Sikorsky spokeswoman said while Sikorsky operations will continue at its Palm Beach County facility it was too soon to know what effect the Army’s decision would have on jobs here.

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The U.S. Army has canceled plans for an armed scout helicopter, dealing a blow to Lockheed Martin‘s Sikorsky Aircraft, which employs hundreds of people in Palm Beach County.

Now questions are being raised about Sikorsky’s future business plans, as well as the status of 755 jobs at the company’s development and testing facility on the Beeline Highway near Jupiter.

In a Feb. 23 statement, a Sikorsky spokesperson said while Sikorsky operations will continue at its Palm Beach County facility, it was too soon to know what effect the Army’s decision would have on jobs here.

“We are beginning a thorough analysis to determine specific impacts to our workforce,” the spokesperson said, and added: “We are disappointed in this decision and await more information from the U.S. Army.”

Military contractor Sikorsky has major presence in Palm Beach County aerospace hub

In Palm Beach County, Sikorsky’s operations include aircraft production, the Sikorsky Training Academy and X2 Technology flight test and advancement, along with various other flight test programs, including the Black Hawk helicopter.

Connecticut-based Sikorsky first began making the Black Hawk in 1979. The powerful helicopter can transport 11 troops for combat, and its cruising speed can reach 174 miles per hour.

In 2018, the Army began looking to create a future attack reconnaissance aircraft, known as FARA, to update its war aviation equipment. The contract was worth billions of dollars.

Sikorsky was selected as a finalist for its Raider X prototype, competing against Bell-Textron. The Raider X, built on Sikorksy’s X2 technology, is the world’s fastest helicopter and can fly at speeds of 250 knots (287 mph).

X2 technology development and flight testing takes place in Palm Beach County, where the team works on the RAIDER X prototype. Sikorsky invested $1 billion in this next generation of helicopters.

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In its Feb. 8 decision, the Army said the war in Ukraine had shown that the future of warfare aviation increasingly involves drones and unmanned craft.

“We are learning from the battlefield — especially in Ukraine — that aerial reconnaissance has fundamentally changed,” said Chief of Staff of the Army General Randy George. “Sensors and weapons mounted on a variety of unmanned systems and in space are more ubiquitous, further reaching, and more inexpensive than ever before.”

The Sikorsky spokesperson said the company still believes its advanced X technology is needed for the U.S. military and its allies “to deter conflict now and in the future.”

Sikorksy’s X2 aircraft offer “speed, range and agility that no other helicopter in the world can match,” the spokesperson said. “We remain confident that X2 technology is the right solution.”

In the interim, the Sikorsky spokesperson said the company will be working on other initiatives.

This includes interest from international customers in X2 technology for their future helicopters. The company also will continue to produce and modernize the Black Hawk for U.S. and international customers.

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Aerospace is important industry in Palm Beach County

Aerospace and engineering are quiet but important fields in Palm Beach County, employing 20,000 people with average annual salaries of $100,000.

The county is home to 1,500 aerospace and engineering companies, according to the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, the county’s chief recruitment arm.

Three major aerospace anchors, Pratt & Whitney, Lockheed and Aerojet Rocketdyne, have operations adjacent to each other in northwestern Palm Beach County.

The aerospace industry’s presence began in 1958 with Pratt & Whitney, which established its rocket and jet engine division in this once mostly swampy section of Palm Beach County.

Kelly Smallridge, president of the Business Development Board, said she hopes no Sikorsky jobs in Palm Beach County will be affected by the Army’s decision. But she expressed optimism that growth in other aerospace companies could pick up any jobs that might be cut at Sikorsky.

Given the county’s low 3% unemployment rate, “I am very confident these jobs can be absorbed by companies already in the industry,” she said.

When she meets with aviation companies doing business in Palm Beach County, she said their No. 1 concern is the ability to attract a workforce. “While we would not want to lose the name Sikorsky, it could be a benefit to other employers here,” Smallridge said.

Alexandra Clough is a business writer at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at aclough@pbpost.com. X: @acloughpbpHelp support our journalism. Subscribe today.

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