The US Army still sees a future need for a long-range assault helicopter to ferry troops into battle, despite cancelling a new armed scout aircraft over concerns about survivability.

Top army officials cancelled development of the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) in February, in part citing observations from the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War that led the army to conclude that the rotorcraft would be too vulnerable to precision munitions and swarms of enemy drones.

Instead, the army says it will use a combination of uncrewed aerial vehicles and space-based assets to perform forward reconnaissance in contested areas.

Despite that conclusion, however, the service is standing by its plan to develop Bell’s V-280 tiltrotor as a successor to Sikorsky’s UH-60 Black Hawk.

Dubbed the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA), the V-280 is intended to eventually move troops and supplies around battlefields – including so-called air-assault missions to deposit ground forces into hostile territory.

“We’re excited about FLRAA,” says Brigadier General Phillip Baker, who oversees the army’s Future Vertical Lift aviation modernisation effort.

V-280 Valor

Source: Bell

Bell’s V-280 tiltrotor, known as the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, is to succeed Sikorsky’s UH-60 Black Hawk, although the two rotorcraft now appear likely to overlap by several decades

Baker and other senior army aviation leaders spoke on 24 April at the annual Army Aviation Association of America summit in Denver, Colorado.

The army plans to start equipping its first aviation unit with V-280s in the 2030-2031 timeframe. Manufacturer Bell tells FlightGlobal it is on track to deliver the first test aircraft sometime in the mid-2020s.

While proliferation of cheap, lethally-armed UAVs is forcing the army to rethink many aspects of how it fights, top generals say their need for a fast troop carrier that can take-off and land vertically has not gone away.

“I don’t think that we’ll be using unmanned aerial systems soon to put Rangers onto the objective,” says Major General Michael McCurry, chief of the army’s aviation branch.

V-280 cruise low shore c Bell

Source: Bell

The V-280’s tiltrotor design promises substantially faster speeds and more range than existing rotary-wing aircraft in the US Army inventory

Although tactical observations from Ukraine appear to have made FARA operationally unsuitable, McCurry says there are no major changes planned to the V-280 design that won the FLRAA competition.

“I don’t see a change to FLRAA… from the original requirements,” the scout helicopter pilot says. “FLRAA is still a transformational capability with its speed and reach.”

The new aircraft is meant to provide a generational improvement in speed and range over the existing UH-60 utility platform. Army programme requirements stipulated a one-way, un-refuelled flight range of 2,440nm (4,520km) and continuous cruise speeds of at least 280kt (518km/h).

Baker notes that in addition to delivering combat forces, the army will always need to airlift wounded troops to safety.

“As we extend the battlefield, we’ve got to have capability to get wounded soldiers off the battlefield, so we can get them recovered,” he says. The army currently uses modified Black Hawks for medical evacuation flights.

Exactly how the two rotorcraft will be integrated remains a matter of consideration. McCurry says the army is continuing to evaluate “fleet mixes” and how best to integrate the new Valor tiltrotors with existing Black Hawk units.

Under its current structure, army combat aviation brigades contain a mix of utility, heavy-lift and attack helicopters. The service could choose to integrate V-280s alongside UH-60s, or opt to keep tactical units pure operators of a single type.

As part of its new aviation fleet strategy, the army plans to purchase additional new UH-60s and keep operating the venerable type into the 2050s and 2060s.

The next major milestone for the FLRAA programme will be granting formal approval to Bell to begin advance procurement of materials and services needed to start production – known as Milestone B in Pentagon parlance.

Bell 360 Invictus

Source: Bell

Bell’s 360 Invictus was a finalist for the army’s Future Armed Reconnaissance Aircraft programme, but the completed prototype will likely never fly because the army decided the concept was too vulnerable to modern precision weapons

Brigadier General David Phillips, the army’s head of aviation procurement, says the service expects to issue a Milestone B decision for FLRAA sometime this year.

“It’s a significant level of effort going through the design phase and then to start actually bending metal [in] the next phase,” Phillips says.

Before any metal gets bent, Bell says its FLRAA team is “intensely focused” on establishing the industrial foundation needed to deliver the next-generation tiltrotor at its cost and schedule targets.

“Programmes are going to live and die on meeting those objectives,” Frank Lazzara, Bell’s director of sales for advanced vertical lift, said at the summit in Denver.

Part of that effort includes selecting a site for the FLRAA production line. Lazzara says V-280 production and assembly will initially be located at Bell’s facility in Amarillo, Texas – where the company currently assembles its V-22 Osprey, UH-1Y and AH-1Z combat rotorcraft.

However, Fort Worth-headquartered Bell is also exploring the potential to establish a larger V-280 facility in Texas, or perhaps elsewhere in the USA, says Lazzara.