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The U.S. Army has picked five companies to take the next step in its Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft Competitive Prototype (FARA CP) program, which will provide the service with a new armed scout aircraft.
An AVX Aircraft Company/L-3 Communications team, Bell, Boeing, Karem, and Sikorsky all received Other Transaction Authority (OTA) for Prototype Agreements from the Army for the design, build and testing of their FARA proposals.
Not all the contenders have publicly disclosed their offerings, but AVX and L3 revealed their proposal for the FARA CP program on April 15. Their aircraft utilizes a compound coaxial helicopter design with two ducted fans.
According to Scott Donnelly, the CEO of Textron, Bell’s parent company, the manufacturer has offered a derivative of its 525 Relentless, “scaling down” the technology it has validated for the super medium program.
Finally, Sikorsky has highlighted the suitability of its X2 technology, currently being matured in its S-97 Raider, for the armed reconnaissance mission.
The Raider, which resumed flight tests in June last year after the hard landing of the first prototype the previous August, features a rigid coaxial main rotors and a variable-pitch pusher propeller (which enhance both the aircraft’s speed and its maneuverability).
In an emailed statement to Vertical, Tim Malia, Sikorsky director, future vertical lift light, said the contract award was the “culmination of years of investment” in the X2 technology. “We continue to fly the S-97 Raider to inform the design for FARA, which provides significant risk reduction to the program schedule and technical objectives,” he said.
Airbus Helicopters, which proposed an offshoot from its X3 hybrid demonstrator program and MD Helicopters, which revealed the development of a NOTAR-equipped aircraft for FARA CP at HAI Heli-Expo in March, have both missed out.
The contract awards came two months ahead of schedule, in what was already an extremely streamlined development timeline.
“In just over a one-year period, the Army moved from the FARA ‘kick-off’ to now awarding prototype contracts – a process that traditionally takes three to five years to achieve,” said Gen. John M. Murray, U.S. Army Futures Command Commanding General. “While much work remains to be done, [the] announcement certainly highlights how the Army is already streamlining the modernization process to provide our soldiers, and our future soldiers, the equipment they need when they need it to win on future battlefields.”
In the formal program solicitation issued in October 2018, the Army laid out its requirements for a platform that would be the “knife fighter” of future Army aviation capabilities. It called 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.
According to the solicitation, the first flight of a demonstrator aircraft is slated for 2024, with initial operational capability by 2028.
The FARA 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.