Military, Products

Army Examines FVL Acceleration, as Service Awards 5 FARA Contracts

By Frank Wolfe | April 24, 2019
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Sikorsky S-97 Raider
(Lockheed Martin Photo)

The U.S. Army's Cross-Functional Team on Future Vertical Lift is examining an acceleration of the Future Vertical Lift program, as the service on April 23 awarded five industry contracts for the development of the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA).

The Army awarded five Other Transaction Authority (OTA) for Prototype Agreements for the aircraft design, build, and test of FARA to an AVX/L3 team; Bell; Boeing; Karem Aircraft; and Sikorsky.

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AVX, which teamed with L3 to offer a coaxial-rotor compound helicopter was awarded a $732 million contract. Bell's pitch, based on the 525 commercial fly-by-wire helicopter technology, earned the company $790 million, according to the federal government's contracting website. Boeing's award came out to $772 million. Karem Aircraft, which specializes in high-efficiency tiltrotor technologies, merited $738 million.

Sikorsky, which is arguably the farthest ahead of the field in developing a FARA candidate with its operational S-97 Raider prototype compound helicopter, was awarded the largest share with $938.4 million.

Tim Malia, Sikorsky's director of Future Vertical Lift Light, said that the contract award "is the culmination of years of investment in the X2 Technology Demonstrator and the S-97 Raider aircraft that have proven the advanced technology and shown its ability to change the future battlefield."

"FARA will plug a critical gap in the Army force structure that requires revolutionary technology and not just incremental improvements to existing platforms," he said. "We continue to fly the S-97 Raider to inform the design for FARA, which provides significant risk reduction to the program schedule and technical objectives."

The Army describes FARA as a “knife fighter” helicopter that will fill the gap left by retiring the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. The service said that FARA "will be capable of achieving and sustaining overmatch against potential competitors and enduring asymmetric threats by closing or mitigating gaps in Army aviation attack and reconnaissance."

Joseph Giunta, executive director for U.S. Army Contracting Command-Redstone, attributed the awarding of the five contracts two months earlier than scheduled to the congressional allowance for OTA and said that OTA "gives us flexibility, allowing us to be more responsive to the timelines in order to meet specific requirements."

A down-select to two contractors may come early next year, and those two companies are scheduled to design competitive prototypes followed and then participate in a "government-sponsored fly off" in 2023, said Brig. Gen. Walter Rugen, the FVL cross-functional team director. The Army would then make FARA an official program of record.

A low-rate production decision is scheduled for 2028. But that may change, depending on the service's priorities. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James McConnville, nominated to become the next Army Chief of Staff,  is an experienced AH-64 pilot and may want to accelerate the FVL timelines.

Gen. John M. Murray, the commander of U.S. Army Futures Command Commanding General, praised the FARA efforts of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center, Army Contracting Command, and the Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team.

"In just over a one-year period, the Army moved from the FARA 'kick-off' to now awarding prototype contracts -- a process that traditionally takes three to five years to achieve," he said. "While much work remains to be done, today's announcement certainly highlights how the Army is already streamlining the modernization process to provide our Soldiers, and our future Soldiers, the equipment they need when they need it to win on future battlefields."

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