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The U.S. Army has released a draft solicitation calling for proposals for a future attack reconnaissance aircraft, and it hopes a “streamlined acquisition” will see two competing prototypes flying by 2023.
The draft solicitation, posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website, appears to be looking for a replacement for the Army’s recently-retired fleet of Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warriors. The Army has been using Boeing AH-64E Apaches as an interim “replacement” in combination with UAVs since phasing out use of the OH-58Ds in 2014.
As such, the new Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft Competitive Prototype (FARA CP) program is picking up the baton from the Armed Aerial Scout program that fell victim to sequestration budget cuts in 2013 — and seems to be running both in parallel and in advance of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program.
FVL will deliver a family of next-generation helicopters across a range of sizes for the U.S. military, but they are not expected to be fielded until 2030 and beyond. Indeed, the precursor to FVL — the Joint Multi-Role technology demonstrator (JMR TD) program — is ongoing. Work and testing on the two programs downselected by the Army for JMR TD — the Bell V-280 Valor and Sikorsky-Boeing’s SB>1 Defiant — is continuing apace.
According to the Army’s draft solicitation, the FARA CP will be comparable in size to FVL capability set 1 — the smallest and most agile aircraft in the FVL family, designed for reconnaissance, light attack, and light assault lift operations.
“The Army currently lacks the ability to conduct armed reconnaissance, light attack, and security with improved stand-off and lethal and non-lethal capabilities with a platform sized to hide in RADAR clutter and for the urban canyons of mega cities,” the solicitation states.
“To close this gap, the Army envisions an optionally manned, next generation rotorcraft with attributes of reduced cognitive workload, increased
operational tempo . . . through ultra-reliable designs and extended maintenance free periods, and advanced teaming and autonomous capabilities.”
The Army describes the planned aircraft as serving as the “knife fighter” of future Army aviation capabilities, working in tandem with unmanned systems. The solicitation also highlights the importance of the aircraft having an open architecture to allow for the integration of new technologies throughout its lifecycle.
The Army plans to brief industry on the program at an industry day on June 28, in Huntsville, Alabama. It expects to release a final version of the solicitation in September 2018, with proposals due in December 2018, and the award of four to six initial contracts in June 2019
Competing bids will then have nine months to develop their preliminary designs and provide data to support their proposal. An initial design and risk review will then reduce the field to two proposals, expected in 2020.
Those two companies will move onto a detailed design, build, and test phase, with a final design and risk review in 2021 ahead of a first flight of the prototypes in the first quarter of 2023. The Army then anticipates a transition to a program of record in 2024.
In a statement emailed to Vertical, Tim Malia, Sikorsky’s director of Future Vertical Lift Light, confirmed the company’s interest in FARA CP and highlighted the suitability of its X2 technology — which includes rigid coaxial main rotors and a variable pusher propeller.
“Sikorsky . . . is reviewing the draft and we are looking forward to working with the U.S. Army to support its operational needs,” he said. “The attack reconnaissance capability of our X2 family adds significant warfighting value and we are ready to ensure Army aviators have an exceptional aircraft for this mission.”
Sikorsky revealed the resumption of flight testing on its S-97 program — which utilizes X2 technology — in mid-June 2018.
Other manufacturers are still to officially confirm their interest in the FARA CP program, but the field of candidates is likely to become clearer after the Industry Day on June 28.