By Pat Host
The U.S. Army would take an important step forward with its Future Vertical Lift (FVL) initiative if its fiscal year 2017 budget request were enacted into law.
American Helicopter Society International’s executive director, Mike Hirschberg, said the $10 million request by the Army, if granted, would mark the start of the process of defining FVL requirements and be the first funding applied to an actual FVL program of record.
Previous funding had been under the umbrella of the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) Technology Demonstrator effort, he said. According to Army officials, the service expects to request $104 million over the next five years for FVL. The fiscal 2017 request provides for analysis-of-alternatives modeling, simulation and analysis and for systems engineering and program management, according to budget documents. Hirschberg said an analysis-of-alternatives study is a key milestone prior to the Defense Dept. potentially committing billions of dollars in development and acquisition.
Fiscal 2018 funding would continue to fund analysis-of-alternatives efforts and systems engineering and program management. Funding the following fiscal year would support a Milestone A decision, development and release of a request for proposal and further systems engineering and program management. A FVL acquisition strategy and program schedule are being developed to be presented at a materiel development decision milestone in early 2017.
Also significant in fiscal 2017 is the Army breaking FVL into its own subprogram: Future Vertical Lift Medium. This helps key decision makers in Congress and top Pentagon brass track the program and provide funding mechanisms. It also helps stakeholders find exact dollars programmed for certain efforts like FVL.
FVL is an initiative, not yet an acquisition program, to develop a family of vertical-lift aircraft for the U.S. military. Advocates say development and fielding of FVL would improve significantly vertical-lift capabilities by providing critical aviation support to the joint warfighting community.
The Army believes increases in range, speed, payload, survivability and reliability, as well as a reduced logistical footprint, can only be achieved through the FVL approach. The initiative is aimed at integrating technological advancements and design configurations with affordability trades.
Aviation programs overall did not fare very well in the Army’s $125 billion base budget request, $1.4 billion less than what was appropriated for fiscal 2016. Aviation procurement fell $2.3 billion in the request; spending on all other Army items (missiles, combat vehicles, ammunition and other equipment) increased. The service cut from its aviation modernization programs to pay for readiness, spending just enough to preserve rotorcraft production and avoid default on contractual obligations.
At a quarter of the Army’s procurement budget, aviation was a big target for trimming cost. “That is a big portfolio,” the Army’s budget director, Maj. Gen. Thomas Horlander, said Feb. 10.
The Army in fiscal 2017 requested $3.9 billion for new aircraft, including overseas contingency operations spending, down from $6 billion in fiscal 2016. Despite the cuts, aviation remains a modernization priority and the largest proportional element of the service’s procurement spending, said Maj. Gen. Keith Thurgood, deputy for acquisition and systems management for the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, technology and logistics.
Existing multi-year contracts for Boeing CH-47 and the Sikorsky Aircraft H-60 are protected in the Fiscal 2017 budget request. The Army plans to stretch out its multi-year commitments and slow the pace of procurement necessary to sustain production. A total of $1 billion will buy 52 remanufactured Boeing AH-64E Block 3 aircraft, four of which are funded through OCO.
The request includes $923 for 21 UH-60Ms for the Army and 15 HH-60Ms, 11 of which are for the National Guard. That is down from the $1.7 billion enacted funding for H-60 procurement in 2016.
Another $668 million would further Army’s efforts to have a fleet entirely of F-model Chinooks by paying for 22 remanufactured airframes and modifications to existing aircraft.