The U.S. Army intends to spend more on prototyping as it supports three new vertical lift programs: Future UAS, Future Attack/Reconnaissance Aircraft, and Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft.
The U.S. Army will pursue a mix of long-range, high-speed, agile unmanned and optionally piloted manned aircraft in its attempt to regain aviation dominance.
Brig. Gen. Walter Rugen, director of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) Cross-Functional Team, says Army Aviation has been “outnumbered and outranged” by the weapon systems of potential adversaries, specifically Russia’s.
Speaking at the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual symposium on April 27, Rugen said the vast array of threats the U.S. military faces, from Moscow’s long-range air defense weapons to its aviation platforms, is “troubling.”
“We have to claw our way back to vertical lift dominance,” he says. “We also have to return the to the speed of historic programs.”
To meet this challenge, Rugen has revealed work on an “ecosystem” of Future Vertical Lift platforms, all enabled by an “Android-like modular open system approach.”
He confirms the Army will pursue a next-generation family of unmanned aircraft under the newly established program called Future UAS. This collection of UAVs will perform “dangerous, dirty and dull” work. This could include transporting cargo or flying ahead of manned aircraft into hostile territory to aid in the destruction of enemy air defenses.
Rugen explains that a “subset” of the Future UAS program will deliver an “Advanced UAV” to team with the Army’s future manned scout platform.
“It will become our premier targeting and electronic attack asset by surveilling, detecting and attacking across multiple spectrums,” he says. “It will build a shared understanding of a very capable enemy and lower our latency to deliver effects on the battlefield, optimized for anti-access/area denial environments.”
The other two platforms the Army wants to field will be "optionally manned." These two aircraft types have previously been referred to as Capability Set 1/FVL-Light and Capability Set 3/FVL-Medium. FVL-Light referred to a lightweight attack/armed reconnaissance platform, while FVL-Medium is a multiservice procurement with the Marine Corps to replace the Sikorsky H-60 and Bell H-1 utility/assault helicopters.
Rugen revealed new terms for these two aircraft: the Future Reconnaissance/Attack Aircraft (Future ARA) and Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA).
Future ARA will be a nimble, lightweight attack platform, well suited to urban warfare. The Army has considered a size limit for this category: 40 ft. by 40 ft., about the area of a city intersection.
“The Future ARA will dominate through maneuver and execution of reconnaissance, attack and electronic warfare,” he says. “It will provide close-combat lethality in complex environments, operating in the canyons of megacities.”
When supported by the Advanced UAS platform and long-range precision fires from land, air and sea, the Future ARA will be responsible for finding and fixing targets and “breaching” an enemy’s integrated air defense systems (IADS)--no easy task.
“The focus is on increased combat radius, increased endurance at that radius, speed and agility while enhancing survivability,” Rugen says. “These two airframes [manned and unmanned] represent the central piece of the IADS-breaching team. They will conduct the dangerous work of detecting, finding and fixing threats and providing targeting for long-range precision fires and aviation fires.
“Together, they will have the interoperability to enter and exit the fight. They will open a corridor for the joint force to seize, maintain and exploit the initiative.”
FLRAA, which aligns with FVL-Medium, will become the Army’s “next-generation lift, assault and medevac asset,” with an emphasis on speed, range and payload.
“It will operate from relative sanctuary with speed and agility,” Rugen explains. “Both manned platforms will have the capability to be optionally manned.”
These revelations appear to put to rest concerns that the Army is truly committed to Future Vertical Lift. It also suggests there are near-term programs of record being established to carry forward work being done by industry to validate next-generation rotorcraft concepts, such as the Bell V-280 Valor, Sikorsky/Boeing SB-1 Defiant and Sikorsky S-97 Raider.
Rugen said each of the categories, manned and unmanned, are priorities for the service, but he didn’t say which type would enter development first.
"Prototyping is critical to this process," he says, noting that Army Aviation will need to shift funding to support those efforts. “It’s an ecosystem we need to build."