Military

Senate Defense Panel Wants Army Plan to Accelerate Black Hawk Replacement

By Dan Parsons | June 19, 2019
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(Lockheed Martin Photo)

Senate lawmakers want the Army to consider speeding up acquisition of a futuristic replacement for the UH-60 Black Hawk and want a tailored acquisition plan to do so delivered by Oct. 1.

In its report on the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act published June 11, the Senate Armed Services Committee acknowledges an opportunity to accelerate the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program, also called Future Vertical Lift Capability Set 3.

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The legislation would direct the Secretary of the Army to provide a briefing on “a course of action to accelerate the FLRAA program, to include potential use of tailored acquisition strategies, procedures, and authorities with appropriate oversight, management, and technical rigor.”

SASC calls on the Army to “consider … a more tailored acquisition approach for the FLRAA program, to include developing prototypes to expedite the procurement of critical technologies. … The committee expects that, following any such prototyping effort, the Army would pursue a follow-on production contract using competitive procedures.”

FLRAA will replace a portion of the Army’s utility helicopter fleet, which is primarily made up of Black Hawk variants. The Army’s fiscal 2020 budget request included $31.9 million in research and development funding for the program.

SASC notes that the current acquisition strategy for FLRAA follows a traditional approach, but the Army is “considering multiple courses of action to accelerate this program through the use of acquisition reform authorities.”

Prospective aircraft technologies have already been developed and flown under the preceding Joint Multirole Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD) program. The two primary contenders are the Bell [TXT] V-280 advanced tiltrotor and the Sikorsky [LMT]-Boeing [BA] SB-1 Defiant compound helicopter.

“Given the substantial investment and knowledge gained by the successful JMR–TD, the committee expects the Army to possess a much better understanding of the technology readiness levels required for the FLRAA development program,” the SASC report says. “As such, the committee believes that the Army should be in a position to reasonably accelerate the FLRAA schedule and acquisition strategy.”

In its version of the NDAA, SASC also seeks to shuffle some of the Army’s requested funding levels for legacy aircraft, including significantly boosting procurement of new-build Apache gunships. The Army’s budget included zero funding for AH–64 Block IIIB New Build aircraft. SASC wants to bump Apache funding to $105 million to purchase three aircraft in fiscal 2020.

SASC “recognizes the importance of the Army’s efforts to modernize and equip both the active component and the Army National Guard with the most advanced and capable attack helicopters” and says the Army “should field the Block IIIB aircraft as quickly as possible across the 24 attack battalions in the active component and the Army National Guard.”

The committee also recommends a $35 million boost in funding for UH-60L and V-model Black Hawks, up from the $169.2 million the Army requested for modernizing the National Guard’s utility helicopter fleet. The increase would pay to convert eight additional aircraft to the most-modern versions.

“The Army should accelerate the conversion of Black Hawks to the upgraded V model, which provides enhanced situational awareness, as quickly as possible to optimize training and reduce operation and sustainment costs,” the SASC report says.

Legacy M-model Black Hawks did not fare as well in the SASC NDAA report. The Army requested $1.4 billion to buy 72 UH-60Ms in fiscal 2020. SASC is concerned about the Army buying too few M-model Black Hawks but still wants to cut $140 million, or seven active-component aircraft, from the fiscal 2020 budget.

“The committee is concerned about the utility helicopter industrial base and the dramatic downturn in production of UH–60M aircraft through the proposed future years defense program,” the report says. “Further, the committee believes that the Army should take advantage of the current multiyear contract that will expire in fiscal year 2021 and more equitably distribute procurement to limit a steep production cut from fiscal year 2020 to fiscal year 2021.”

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