Sikorsky S-97 Raider. Photo courtesy of Sikorsky
Within the next five years, the Army wants at least two Apache-sized armed reconnaissance helicopter prototypes up and flying, according to a notice the service issued June 22.
The so-called “Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft Competitive Prototype (FARA CP) seeks to design, build, and test technically mature aircraft in an operationally relevant environment, the Army said in a draft solicitation published on the government contracting website.
“The Army envisions an optionally manned, next generation rotorcraft with attributes of reduced cognitive workload, increased operational tempo (OPTEMPO) through ultra-reliable designs and extended maintenance free periods, and advanced teaming and autonomous capabilities,” the solicitation reads. “Teamed with unmanned systems and various air launched effects, this platform will be the center piece of the integrated air defense system (IADS) breeching team to provide freedom of maneuver in a multi-domain battle.”
A final version of the solicitation is anticipated in September with proposals due in December. Between four and six awards are planned in June 2019 and then industry hopefuls will have nine months to provide prelimary aircraft designs, data and “insight required” to whittle the competition to two companies that will participate in a design and risk review.
The Army describes the desired platform as a “knife fighter” of future battlefield capabilities in a “small form factor … with maximized performance.”
“Critical to this envisioned platform is a resilient digital backbone designed to allow rapid capability advancement in subsystems and software and affordable life cycle management,” the draft document says. “This purpose-built aircraft will be fielded at echelons above division but other variants could be fielded across all aviation formations.”
Rapid acquisition is key, and the Army wants the aircraft designed and developed with that in mind by the Army’s Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team. The aircraft should have an open architecture that allows efficient integration of emerging and mission equipment and weapons to meet future threats.
According to a published draft schedule, the Army wants prototypes flying by early 2023, completion of a flyoff between the two by the end of that fiscal year and transition to a program record in fiscal 2024.
In early iterations of the Future Vertical Lift program seeking a family of next-generation helicopters, it was assumed the Army was most intent on fielding the “medium” variant to replace the Black Hawk. Air vehicles in that category built by both Bell and a Boeing/Sikorsky team are participating in the ongoing joint multirole technology demonstration (JMR-TD).
Bell built and this week publicly flew the V-280 Valor advanced tiltrotor for that program. Sikorsky and Boeing are offering the SB-1 Defiant for JMR-TD, but is has not yet flown. But, before being bought by Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky built and flew the S-97 Raider. Both Raider and Defiant are base don Sikorksy’s X2 technology that combines coaxial main rotors with an aft pusher propeller to achieve high-speed forward flight.
That aircraft, which returned to flight this week, was offered to the Army as an armed aerial scout replacement for the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior and fits the FARA CP capability set. Both companies are expected to offer aircraft for the light and medium FVL variants.
“A tiltrotor is absolutely appropriate for the [capability set] one mission,” Keith Flail, Bell’s vice president of advanced tiltrotor systems, said June 18 after the first public demonstration of the V-280 in Amarillo, Texas. “It is a scalable technology and we are certainly open to those potential discussions.”
Tim Malia, Sikorsky’s director of FVL Light, said the company is “reviewing the draft and we are looking forward to working with the U.S. Army to support its operational needs. The attack reconnaissance capability of our X2 family adds significant warfighting value with its ability to fight for information and we are ready to ensure Army aviators have an exceptional aircraft for this mission.”