Lockheed Martin Sikorsky will answer the US Army’s call for information on potential light armed reconnaissance and attack aircraft with a proposal derived from the S-97 Raider.
The 5,00kg (11,000lb) pusher-prop assault platform – which achieves speed and agility via Sikorsky’s X2-derived advanced rigid rotor and drive system – is already flying at West Palm Beach, Florida, and would be Lockheed’s go-to offer if the army were to launch an Armed Aerial Scout follow-on through its next-generation first future vertical lift (FVL) rotorcraft acquisition plan.
Last month, the army released its first FVL requests for information (RFI) for the light and medium categories, respectively called capability sets one (CS1) and three (CS3). This is a preparatory step to inform an analysis of alternatives that is to receive funding in fiscal year 2017.
Sikorsky president Dan Schultz told Flightglobal after a media briefing at the Heli-Expo show that the Raider fits nicely within CS1, and that Lockheed-Sikorsky will respond in kind.
Schultz says the army is clearly looking for a small reconnaissance aircraft that will succeed today’s mix of Boeing AH-64 Apaches and unmanned surveillance aircraft that is replacing the Bell OH-58 Kiowa Warrior as a cost-cutting measure.
While many FVL pundits were expecting an RFI for the medium category, the appearance of CS1 – which calls for information on existing, future and conceptual platforms for “reconnaissance, light-attack and light-assault/lift operations” in the 2030s – caught some by surprise.
“We’re very excited about that,” says Schultz. “If I were in the army flying a reconnaissance mission, I’d love to have a Raider. The airplane is quiet, it’s fast, it’s agile, it can pull 3g, it can back up in the zone, it can go forward in the zone, it can go sideways in the zone, and it has almost twice the range of any small helicopter today and can keep up with [Bell Boeing V-22] Ospreys or anything else that’s out there.”
Other companies likely to compete in this space are AVX, Bell Helicopter, Boeing, Karem and MD Helicopters, although it is not yet clear what light armed reconnaissance concepts each will offer.
Bell chief executive Mitch Snyder says that – at least for now – the company is more focused on the medium category through its V-280 Valor tiltrotor. MD Helicopters owner Lynn Tilton said at Heli-Expo that it is pursuing a more near-term, conventional assault platform, known today as MD6XX.
Karem is pushing tiltrotor types, while AVX has a number of coaxial compound helicopter designs propelled by ducted fans.
But for Schultz, the answer is quite clear: Raider, which first flew on 22 May 2015. “If the army comes out with a category one, we have an offering for them that’s already flying,” he says. “It’s not in development, it’s not on paper, it’s not behind the curtain, it’s actually flying down at West Palm Beach.
“You can try with tiltrotors, but tiltrotors aren’t as manoeuvrable close to the ground," he notes. "A helicopter with an advanced blade changes all that.”
Schultz says the S-97 is a major investment by Sikorsky in next-generation rotorcraft technologies, and he hopes the army moves forward in the light assault category alongside FVL-Medium. Here, the company would offer a production version of the SB-1 Defiant that it is building in partnership with Boeing under the army's Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator programme as a precursor to FVL.
According to the CS1 RFI document, prospective platforms much achieve speeds of 200kt (370km/h) with a “minimum” tactical radius of 229nm (424km). They must carry six fully equipped troops weighing 152kg each, or 912kg in total.