The US Army released a draft request for proposal for its Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, a rotorcraft to replace a retired scout helicopter, according to new acquisition documents.

The Army plans to select two companies to build prototypes by the third quarter of 2020 and wants to see prototypes flying by 2023. By fiscal year 2024, the service wants to transition to a program of record.

The Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) will be comparable in size to Future Vertical Lift Capability Set 1, a light-attack and scouting aircraft with a minimum internal payload of six passengers.The Army envisions FARA would be a manned rotorcraft that uses software automation to reduce pilot workloads and that has the ability to sustain a high operational tempo with extended maintenance free periods.

The aircraft would have autonomous capabilities, be able to team with unmanned systems and play the center piece role of an integrated air defense system breeching team. The air platform would be sized to hide in Radar clutter and within the urban canyons of mega cities.

“Army Aviation must operate in highly contested/complex airspace and degraded environments against peer/near peer adversaries capable of an advanced integrated air defense system,” the Army wrote in its draft RFP. “This platform is the ‘knife fighter’ of future Army Aviation capabilities, a small form factor platform with maximized performance.”

Currently, only a few clean-sheet rotorcrafts have the flight hours and performance to fulfill the Army’s Capability Set 1 vision, including the Sikorsky S-97 Raider, Airbus Helicopters Eurocopter X³ and Leonardo AW609.

The S-97 is designed specifically to meet the Army's Capability Set 1 vision. It is a demonstrator platform designed to show the benefits of the advancing blade concept, a pair of rigid, contra-rotating co-axial rotors that allows the rotorcraft to fly at speeds above 200kt.

Airbus's compound helicopter, the Eurocopter X³, and Leonardo's tiltrotor, the AW609, are designed for the civilian markets, but could be re-purposed for a military scout role as was the Army's recently retired scout helicopter the Bell OH-58 Kiowa, which was based on the Bell 206A JetRanger.

The FARA represents a belated replacement plan for the Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. The original OH-58A was fielded in 1968 as an interim replacement for the cancelled Hughes OH-6 Cayuse, but the army later cancelled the high-speed Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne as costs rose steeply. Three decades later, the army also cancelled the Sikorsky Boeing RAH-66 Comanche, denying other bid to replace the long-serving OH-58D.

An attempt to modify the Bell 407 into an armed reconnaissance helicopter failed in 2008 when the Army cancelled the contract. Subsequent plans to launch the Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) acquisition programme also were scrapped by the Army. Finally, the OH-58D was retired without a direct replacement. The Army planned to fill the requirement for a scout aircraft by teaming the Boeing AH-64 Apache with the Textron AAI RQ-7 Shadow unmanned air system.