WASHINGTON, D.C.— Italian helicopter manufacturer Leonardo has been awarded a $176.4 million contract to provide the Navy with 32 new training helicopters to be based at Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton.
Over the next four years, the contract includes provisions for the procurement of a total of 130 new helicopters, bringing the possible total contract value for Leonardo to $648.1 million, according to the Navy.
NAS Whiting Field is a center of helicopter training for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The installation is replacing its aging fleet of TH-57A Bell Jet Ranger helicopters, which have been in use at the installation for more than 35 years, with the new TH-73A Advanced Helicopter Training System rotorcraft.
The helicopters will be built by AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corporation, a Pennsylvania-based wholly owned subsidiary of Leonardo. The TH-73A is based on an existing AgustaWestland single-engine helicopter.
In a news release on the contract announcement, Leonardo CEO Alessandro Profumo said the company "is thrilled the U.S. Navy has selected our TH-119-based offer ... We are proud to be a core contributor to the future of U.S. defense."
According to the Navy, the TH-73A is slated to meet training requirements for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard through 2050.
From Pennsylvania, Leonardo Helicopters Philadelphia Managing Director William Hunt said, "Our plan since day one has been to offer the U.S. Navy the training capabilities they asked for, without compromise."
The initial order to Leonardo covers the 32 helicopters, along with associated equipment and instructor pilot and maintenance training. The contract award, announced Monday by the Department of Defense, calls for the initial order of helicopters to be completed by October 2021. Delivery of the first of the 32 helicopters is scheduled to begin later this year, according to the Navy.
"The TH-73A will provide a modern helicopter training platform that will serve ... training requirements into the foreseeable future," Navy Capt. Todd St. Laurent, the service’s undergraduate flight training system program manager, said in a Navy news release. "These new helicopters will ensure the Navy has capacity to train several hundred aviation students per year at Naval Air Station Whiting Field ... ."
In September, as the Navy was evaluating bids for the new training helicopter — Bell Helicopter and Airbus also met an April deadline for submitting proposals — Leonardo promised that it would build a helicopter support facility adjacent to NAS Whiting Field.
At the time, Leonardo said the facility, operating around the clock to provide spare parts and repairs, among other services, would bring "at least 40-50 local jobs" to Santa Rosa County.
Leonardo spokeswoman Margaret Rogalski said Wednesday that the company doesn’t "currently ... have a timeline projection" for that facility.
"(H)owever," Rogalski said, "we’re in active discussions with Santa Rosa County officials and look forward to beginning development in the months ahead."
In other military contract news related to Whiting Field, Niceville-based construction contracting firm EMR Inc. on Friday was awarded a $17 million contract for the design and construction of a temporary helicopter hangar at the installation, according to a Department of Defense contract announcement.