Artist rendering of the AVX/L3 coaxial compound helicopter design. (AVX/L3 photo)
PARIS AIR SHOW — Now the president of L3 Technologies' surveillance and strike systems sector, Luke Savoie said that he remembers an Army OH-58 Kiowa Warrior crew member firing an M4 carbine out of the window of the aircraft during U.S. operations in Iraq more than a decade ago--a decision made to avoid possible collateral damage from the helicopter's Hydra-70, 2.75 inch diameter rockets, he said.
Savoie said that he was then an Air Force Special Operations Command AC-130 aircraft commander and that the dilemma faced by the Kiowa Warrior crew has helped motivate him in his work on the AVX/L3 Technologies offering for the U.S. Army's Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) program.
The AVX/L3 coaxial-rotor compound helicopter will be a "very fast platform" that has the "agility of a Little Bird" and the "lethality of an Apache," Savoie said in an interview here, referring to the U.S. Special Operations Command's fleet of A/MH-6M Little Bird helicopters and the U.S. Army's AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, both by Boeing.
The U.S. Army's Cross-Functional Team on Future Vertical Lift is examining an acceleration of the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program, and the service on April 23 awarded five industry contracts for the development of FARA, formerly known as FVL Capability Set 1.
The Army awarded five Other Transaction in Authority (OTA) for Prototype Agreements for the aircraft design, build, and test of FARA to the AVX/L3 team, Bell, Boeing, Karem Aircraft and Sikorsky.
The AVX/L3 team received a $732 million contract. Bell's pitch, based on the 525 commercial fly-by-wire helicopter technology, earned the company $790 million; Boeing's award came out to $772 million, but the company has been mum on its FARA design. Karem Aircraft, which specializes in high-efficiency tiltrotor technologies, received $738 million. Sikorsky, which is arguably ahead of the field in developing a FARA candidate because of its operational S-97 Raider prototype compound helicopter, was awarded the largest share with $938.4 million. The S-97 uses elements of the Sikorsky design for the SB-1 Defiant for the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft, also known as Capability Set 3.
Savoie said that the AVX/L3 offering has a distinct advantage over other entrants.
"Some have adapted designs to meet Cape Set 1, but we're designing something from the outset to meet Cape Set 1," he said.
Key attributes of the AVX/L3 design are light composite materials to keep the weight within the FARA goal of 14,000 pounds, survivability measures to help keep the aircraft safe in anti-access area denial environments posed by near-peer adversaries, sensors to put "weapons on target" and provide situational awareness, strong operational capabilities in dense urban areas, and a modular bay allowing a configuration up to six seats, Savoie said.
The Army kicked off the FARA competition last October — a solicitation that lays out a four-phase competitive prototyping effort that is to yield operational, experimental aircraft flying by November 2022. A downselect to two contractors may come early next year.
FARA is to replace the AH-64 Apache gunships currently filling in for the retired OH-58D Kiowa Warrior on scout reconnaissance duty in the Army’s 11 heavy attack recon squadrons. Yet, it appears likely that FARA will serve with some version of the AH-64Es into the 2030s.