The US Army's most senior aviation officers have strongly endorsed the planned future vertical lift (FVL) programme as crucial to the service's aviation modernisation plans in the decades to come.
"At some point the helicopters that we have today will be obsolete," says Maj Gen Anthony Crutchfield, commander of the service's aviation center of excellence. "So what we need to do is make sure that future aviators and future commanders have the technology and capability that they are going to need to fight future wars."
Crutchfield underlined the FVL's position as a key part of the service's Aim Point 2030 aviation plan during a speech on 2 April at the Army Aviation Association of America's Annual Professional Forum.
Speaking later to reporters, Crutchfield said that thanks to declining budgets, the service has to balance sustaining the current fleet with investing in new technology. At some point, therefore, the army will have to spend on the FVL programme. "I think it's affordable based on the strategy we have laid out," he says.
"What we're trying to preach is balance," says Maj Gen Tim Crosby, the army's programme executive officer for aviation. "If you kill only your investment programmes, then in a few years from now that truck is no longer sustainable. If you don't have an investment programme for the long-term then we have nothing."
The service is also funding propulsion technology and other "enablers" that will eventually become part of the new FVL programme. Crosby adds that the USA is focused on a medium-lift-class machine for the FVL because three-quarters of the service's fleet consists of medium-class helicopters.
But Crutchfield adds that the FVL could replace the army's fleet of TH-67 training helicopters as well.
"I'll go on record and say this: I think future vertical lift, when it comes to pass, can also fill a gap that we will face in our training fleet."
The FVL might be able to either augment or replace much of the teaching performed in the current trainer. If it works, that would reduce the time it takes to train a new pilot, and could potentially dispense with the need for operational conversion units.