During the AHS Forum in May, U.S. Army Aviation and other helicopter industry leadership from the science and technology (S&T) community noted that the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) initiative is on track, but emphasized the need to secure funding sources in order for the program to succeed, despite the global economic situation and financial shortfalls in the U.S.
A collaborative effort involving a number of parties, including Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the U.S. Coast Guard, NASA, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the Vertical Lift Consortium (VLC), FVL will design, develop and deliver the next generation of DoD vertical lift aircraft, according to Lt. Col. David Bristol, U.S. Army Aviation PEO for Future Vertical Lift activities. Bristol explained that the military, the U.S. Congress, DoD and the industry have defined the need for FVL, adding that interest and support from Congress is building since the program was launched in 2008. “It really focuses on capabilities-based assessment as a foundation for looking at Future Vertical Lift as far as performance shortfalls,” he said.
One of the primary goals of the FVL initiative is to provide options for decision makers, and keep design and operating costs affordable. The “FVL Vision” calls for a joint aircraft from inception with common systems and subsystems across the fleet. A higher-speed aircraft with more range, payload and endurance, the FVL fleet will be safer and less expensive to operate, according to Bristol. He also highlighted some of the mission types that FVL will undertake, including counter-terrorism and irregular warfare as the U.S. pulls out of Afghanistan; deterring and defeating aggression in support of ground-based troops; and conducting humanitarian, disaster relief and other rescue missions.
Bristol described an “FVL Strategic Plan” where all the services are “looking at a family of Future Vertical Lift platforms—the light, the medium, the heavy and the ultra. And we’re looking for commonality as we examine the gaps, in line with our capabilities assessment.”
He explained why the program needs to move forward, noting that the “current fleet has done an excellent job,” but saying that “DoD does not have a follow-up program of record to replace the current fleet. [We’re] looking at production lines stopping from 2022, with the end of the [current fleet’s] useful lives at around 2035. So this strategic plan’s also going to address some of the capability gaps we have.”
Those gaps include speed, range and weight. “When we look at, for instance, airspeed—aside from the V-22, airspeed limitations because of technology are at around 160 knots, 4,000 feet at 95 degrees at mission gross weight, and our fleet can’t reach out—they don’t have the legs that future needs will require. Those are some of the things we need to address.”
Bristol’s comments came after a presentation from U.S. Army Aviation PEO Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, who called for a “marriage” of the S&T community and military program management is needed (for more see “Married with Children” on page 4 and “Q&A with Tim Crosby” on page 54).
“We can ill-afford to be pursuing things that don’t either support the Future Vertical Lift or where we need to go in modernizing the platforms that we have,” he said. That partnership is “the kind of communication and collaboration we’re going to need in budget-tight environments. … We’ve got to collaborate, we’ve got to coordinate, we’ve got to discuss.”
Crosby pointed out the importance of keeping an eye on the future. “This is the number one priority, and sometimes it’s easy to focus on the right now, the current budget year, and thinking to yourself that you’re supporting that soldier. That’s the easy way out. But if I don’t think about long range, if every one of us in this room don’t think about the long-range support for that solider, we’ll feel real good about ourselves today, but in a few years we’ll look back and say we screwed up and it’s our fault.”
If everyone accepts the short-term answer today, “then we have no one to blame but ourselves down the road when our kids are out there trying to fight these battles for us, if we don’t stand our ground and have a vision. And that vision’s got to translate into execution,” Crosby said.