The U.S. Army says developing a next-generation successor to the UH-60 Black Hawk and other legacy helicopters is a high priority that will change how ground forces fight and maneuver in future operating environments: Bell
The heads of the U.S. Army say they “won’t stand for delays” on the multiservice Future Vertical Lift program, despite a re-phasing in the fiscal 2019 budget.
FVL is the Army’s No. 3 acquisition priority after long-range precision fires and ground vehicle modernization, and therefore it is the Army Aviation community’s No. 1 priority.
FVL-Medium, the first of five planned FVL acquisition programs, would deliver a next-generation replacement for the troop-carrying Army Sikorsky H-60 Black Hawk and Marine Corps Bell H-1 Huey utility/assault helicopters. But there are concerns about how long this first new rotorcraft will take to field, since production and deployment are not scheduled to begin until fiscal 2030.
In fiscal 2018, a request for proposals for the initial technology maturation and risk-reduction phase of FVL-Medium was scheduled for release in fiscal 2019, following Materiel Development and Milestone A acquisition decisions. But the latest plan depicted in the fiscal 2019 budget plan, as released in February, shifts the Milestone A decision and issuance of an RFP into fiscal 2021.
But according to Army officials, that has not decelerated the broader program of record. It actually reverts to the original acquisition timeline.
As noted by service leaders, the Army, although the largest stakeholder in FVL-Medium, is not the acquisition authority. It is a joint program, with oversight from the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), like the F-35 Lightning II.
“The defense acquisition executive deferred establishing a Milestone A date until after completion of the analysis of alternatives and subsequent requirements development, to ensure the planned acquisition strategy provided an affordable, sustainable and effective materiel solution,” the Army tells Aerospace DAILY in a statement. “The program is still on track for Milestone A decision in fiscal 2021, which was the original proposal for the program.”
Asked to explain the changes to the timeline at a House appropriations committee hearing on Capitol Hill on March 15, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley says the timing of the RFP release will be decided this fall, as planned. He says the long-serving Black Hawk, AH-64 Apache, and Boeing CH-47 Chinook remain “great helicopters” and the Army will continue to spend money to modernize them for the “foreseeable future.” But he stressed that the Army is committed to FVL, which will deliver a faster and more agile platform that can survive and win in future operating environments.
“We need an aircraft that can fly faster and farther than any existing rotary-wing aircraft today,” he says. “We need an aircraft that is agile, both while inflight to avoid enemy air defenses and at the ‘X,’ or landing zone, to evade or survive against intense ground fire.
“Those are some pretty stiff requirements, so the discussion with industry is ongoing right now about what’s out there from a technological standpoint,” Milley said. “We’ll know more throughout the summer, but there is no intent—and the secretary and I are not going to stand for—delays. This is an urgent need.”
At a defense programs forum in Washington on March 6, Army Under Secretary Ryan McCarthy also denied any deceleration of FVL-Medium, saying “it’s actually on track as a program of record.” He notes that the next milestone decision is expected this fall, sometime between September and December.
Whatever comes out of the milestone decision will influence the phasing of the FVL program for the Army and Marine Corps going forward. It could also impact other Army Aviation programs, such as the Improved Turbine Engine Program. ITEP was conceived as a replacement for the GE Aviation T700 in the Black Hawk and Apache, but could also power a next-generation lightweight Armed Aerial Scout platform.
“The Army continues to explore opportunities to accelerate FVL by engaging OSD and Marine Corps stakeholders to ensure funding is synchronized with requirements,” the Army says in response to questions from Aerospace DAILY. “Once the analysis of alternatives is complete, the defense acquisition executive will establish a Milestone A date.”
Rotorcraft manufacturers such as Bell, Boeing, and Sikorsky have been pressing the Army to move faster on FVL, saying their concepts are mature enough to be introduced sooner. Industry teams have spent hundreds of millions of dollars advancing new concepts, with only limited co-investment by the federal government, and they want to see a return on investment.
AVX, Bell, Boeing, Karem, and Sikorsky are the leading participants in the Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD), an experimentation effort meant to inform the requirements development process for FVL.
Bell has recently been flying its V-280 Valor, a third-generation tiltrotor, in Amarillo, Texas. Meanwhile, Sikorsky and Boeing are completing assembly of the coaxial-rotor SB-1 Defiant in Palm Beach, Florida, with plans to fly by year’s end. Karem and AVX have been maturing their advanced concepts for JMR-TD through laboratory experiments and scaled prototyping.
Army Secretary Mark Esper says the government and industry investment in these technology demonstrators will help the service move faster in the longer term. “We test, we fail, we learn, we prototype, and we repeat until we narrow the requirements and get on a much quicker trajectory to get to the end state we want.”