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The U.S. Army has officially begun the competition for a new armed scout aircraft, having issued a formal program solicitation for a Future Attack Reconnaissance Competitive Prototype (FARA CP).
“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.
It calls for an optionally manned, next-generation rotorcraft with an open architecture, reduced pilot workload and an “ultra-reliable” design that will allow for extended maintenance-free periods.
“This platform is the ‘knife fighter’ of future Army Aviation capabilities, a small form factor platform with maximized performance,” the solicitation states.
The program picks up the baton from the Armed Aerial Scout program that fell victim to sequestration budget cuts in 2013, and will provide 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.
The FARA CP solicitation, posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website on Oct. 3, follows on the heels of a draft solicitation issued in June 2018. The Army is calling for a brisk development process that will see the first flight of a demonstrator aircraft by 2024, and initial operational capability by 2028.
“The results of this prototyping and test effort will support a decision to enter into a formal program of record for subsequent full system integration, qualification and production as a rapid acquisition,” the solicitation states.
The Army briefed potential bidders on the program at an industry day on June 28 in Huntsville, Alabama, with attendees including Airbus, Boeing, Bell, Aurora Flight Sciences, AVX Aircraft, Karem Aircraft, Leonardo Helicopters, Piasecki Aircraft Corporation, Sikorsky, Lockheed Martin, and Textron.
Proposals are due by Dec. 18, 2018, with the first of four potential phases of development scheduled to begin in June 2019.
The first phase will see the contenders given nine months to develop preliminary designs and provide data supporting their bid. Four to six bidders are expected to take part in this phase, with each receiving about $15 million in government funding. Following an initial design and risk review, at least two aircraft (possibly more, depending on the availability of funding) will be downselected for phase two.
In this phase, the contenders will take part in a detail design, build and test phase. A final design and risk review is scheduled for November 2020, in which the government will decide whether to continue or end the program. If the program continues, the contenders will be given about 24 months for the aircraft build, with an anticipated first flight in November 2022.
The two contenders downselected for the second phase will receive about $735 million to cover their aircraft’s development from 2020 to 2023.
The third phase and fourth phases, if completed, cover evaluation of the aircraft and potential design updates, integration of mission equipment, and procurement of additional prototypes.
Sikorsky and Bell have already confirmed their interest in the FARA CP program, with the former highlighting the suitability of its X2 technology for the armed reconnaissance mission.