The US Army has provided the clearest details yet about what in needs in a Future Vertical Lift (FVL) platform after releasing two requests for information for next-generation rotorcraft technologies and concepts in the lightly armed reconnaissance and mid-size utility/attack roles.
Published on the US government's contracting website on 22 February, the army's industry surveys, for the first time since FVL was conceived seven years ago, seek information on future rotorcraft, based either on existing types or completely new designs, that could be introduced in the 2030s. The notice seeks information on every core technology from the airframe structure to engines, drive systems, rotors and flight control systems as well as avionics, sensors and armaments.
The emphasis is on improved speed, range, endurance and full performance "in high and hot environments” as well as lower operating and maintenance costs and a comparable or reduced logistical footprint compared to today's army aviation inventory.
Safety, survivability and lethality are three more focal points, as well as manned-unmanned teaming and highly networked operations via the latest radios and datalinks.
Established by then-defence secretary Robert Gates in 2009 and more closely defined in a 2011 strategic vision document, the proposed FVL acquisition would jointly mature and acquire next-generation rotorcraft for the Pentagon and would be second in size, scope and cost to the Lockheed Martin F-35 "Joint Strike Fighter" programme.
It might eventually replace the long-serving Sikorsky H-60 Black Hawk, Boeing AH-64 Apache and H-47 Chinook types as well as the recently retired Bell OH-58 Kiowa Warrior in the armed aerial scout role.
The two industry surveys are tentative first steps in that process, arming army decision makers with the latest concepts being pursued by helicopter heavyweights like Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky, Boeing, Bell Helicopter and Airbus Helicopters as well as proposals by smaller manufacturers and new market entrants.
The programme's precursor, the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD), is already underway with the Sikorsky/Boeing SB-1 Defiant and Bell Helicopter V-280 Valor due to fly in 2017.
Light attack and aerial reconnaissance
The first FVL "capability set" reflects a "small, agile air vehicle" for future reconnaissance, light-attack and light-assault and lift operations.
Desired performance metrics include a terrain-following speed greater than 200kt with a “tactical radius” of 229nm unrefuelled, the RFI states.
The minimum time-on-location is 2h out 170nm from a base location for the reconnaissance and attack missions, or 30min for assault missions out 229nm.
The “minimum internal payload” is six fully equipped troops weighing 152kg (335lbs) each, with sustained, agile flight at 6,000ft with temperatures reaching 35°C (95°F). Aerial refuelling is a must-have capability.
Medium utility and attack
The second “capability set” images an aircraft that fills the role of today's Apache and Black Hawk. Its diverse range of mission sets includes urban security, attack, maritime interdiction, medical evacuation, disaster relief and combat search-and-rescue.
At a minimum, common attributes should include a “combat radius” of 229-450nm with cruise speeds from 230kt to 310kt when fully loaded and in hot and high locations.
The RFI proposes an internal payload of 1,587-1,814kg (3,500-4,000lbs) and 2,722-3629kg (6,000-8,000lbs) externally. Other metrics included in the RFI target other mission derivatives.
All types must be capable of employing precision-guided weapons anywhere from 100m to 3km, with 360° self-protection from a mounted weapon turret. All types must be compatible with transport via today’s navy ships and fixed-wing cargo airplanes.
The army’s latest budget request includes $104 million through fiscal year 2021 to begin “FVL-Medium”, and $10 million is included in 2017 to establish fund a programme office and begin a formal analysis of alternatives.
The programme’s future is still far from certain and won’t become a formal, milestone A-approved programme of record until 2019, army budget documents note. The first FVL air vehicle “technology maturation” contracts aren't expected until 2021, by which time research and development funding will hit $55 million.