Army's Future Attack Helicopter Zooms Ahead Of Schedule

Last month, we reported that the US Army was considering whether it should purchase Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) to replace its aging fleet of Boeing AH-64 Apache and Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior copters. Now it seems the Army's Future Vertical Lift (FVL) modernization priority, a competition to design, build, and test the FARA prototypes is ahead of schedule and exceeding expectations, stated Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center Public Affairs.

Out of eight proposals, five had been awarded for prototype agreements as of April 23, well ahead of schedule.

"FARA represents the leap-ahead technology we've been talking about," said Col. Craig Alia, FVL Cross-Functional Team chief of staff. "It's a critical program in that it fills an existing capability gap created by the divestiture of the OH-58."

Dan Bailey, Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC), is the lead project manager on the FARA program. He told the Army Public Affairs office that FARA solicitation to private defense firms was publicly announced in late 2018 with anticipated awards this summer, indicating the program is two months ahead of schedule.

"What's exciting about the new process the Army has put in place through the Army Futures Command and cross-functional teams … is that we've gone from concept … to awards in basically a one-year period of time," said Bailey.

The Army's requirements for FARA include complete integration of government equipment: engine, M230 chain gun and rocket launcher, a minimum speed, specific target gross weight, a maximum 40-foot diameter rotor, and an affordable price tag.

Extended range, payload, and endurance were among the other requirements the Army expects. Separate from those mandates, the timing of the execution plan, funding profile requirements, acceptable risk level, statute requirements and the ability to have helicopters in series production by the mid-2020s for fielding by 2028, were also considered.

"We're at an inflection point where we can't afford not to modernize," said Alia, echoing a similar tune from Brig. Gen. Walter Rugen FVL director. "We know that the current fleet is fantastic and has done a great job for us, but we can't indefinitely continue to incrementally improve 1970s and 1980s technology," Alia added.

The five awards were initiated six months after the initial solicitation went out in October 2018. Bailey said initial designs would be submitted to the Army by February 2020. "Those are designs of the aircraft, updated plan to execute the entire approach and risk assessments of proceeding, followed by another evaluation process," he said.

Baily said the five vendors understand that only two will make it to the next phase. "The awards made this week were not just for phase one; it was for the entire execution all the way through flight test on these vehicles" he explained. "We looked at all aspects of being able to execute, not only the CP effort through flight test in 2023, but also their ability to execute an (engineering manufacturing and development) phase follow-on and a production phase afterward," Bailey explained.

The most likely FARA candidates will be the Sikorsky S-97 Raider and the Bell V-280 Valor.

Video: Sikorsky S-97 Raider flight test

Video: Bell V-280 Valor flight test