The US Army is holding steady on its need for a light, armed reconnaissance helicopter in the Future Vertical Lift programme, despite limited funding and a joint requirement across the services that calls for a medium-lift aircraft.

During the annual Army Aviation Association of America (AAAA) mission systems solutions summit in Nashville, Tennessee, army leadership maintained that the service will press ahead with the lighter helicopter - the so-called capability, or cape set 1 - despite the fact that its US Marine Corps and special operations partners in the FVL programme require a medium-weight model.

Despite rumours that capability 1 set had been shelved, the army’s programme executive office project manager for utility helicopters told an audience at AAAA that all five FVL capability sets are in development.

“We just brought cape set 3 forward first because it was the greatest joint need,” Colonel Billy Jackson says. “But the army clearly sees an aerial reconnaissance capability as the army’s number one need, which would be a cape set 1 airframe.”

FVL’s five different capability sets range from a heavy cargo mission to capability set 1, aimed at replacing the aerial reconnaissance mission satisfied by the Bell Helicopter OH-58 Kiowa Warrior.

Capability sets 2 through 4 represent the largest tranche of vertical-lift aircraft, with about 4,000 airframes across the services, Jackson says. Capability set 3 would replace the army’s UH-60 Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache, as well as the US Marine Corps’ H-1s, he adds.

The army is still determining where a future attack aircraft fits, whether that is within the first, second or third capability set, he says. A capability set 1 or 2 airframe would represent a more tactical aircraft, while a capability set 3 helicopter and above satisfies a strategic mission with longer range.

After divesting the Kiowa, the army filled the light reconnaissance mission gap with manned-unmanned teaming. However, there is still a significant gap in the reconnaissance and security role, the US Army Aviation Center of Excellence’s commanding general says.

“That’s why we say the army’s number one FVL need is an armed reconnaissance helicopter,” Maj Gen William Gayler says. “But the path that we’re on with a multi-service solution involving the Marine Corps and Special Operations Command is a medium-lift cape set 3 FVL variant. That’s from a [Defense Department] perspective but the army is pursuing both.”

While the army is focusing on capability set 3, the service is looking at every opportunity to fill the first set depending on budget and modernization constraints, he adds.