US Army makes largest helicopter award in 40 years

WASHINGTON – Textron’s Bell has won the US Army’s competition to build the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, the service’s largest helicopter procurement decision in 40 years.

The deal for the next-generation helicopter is worth up to $1.3 billion and is set to replace about 2,000 Black Hawk utility helicopters and about 1,200. Apache attack helicopter circa 2030. The FLRAA won’t serve as a one-for-one replacement for existing aircraft, but it will take on the role of the Black Hawk, the longtime Army workhorse for getting troops to and around the battlefield, and the Apache, Focuses on assault missions.

The service wants the FLRAA to be able to travel about 2,440 nautical miles (or 2,810 miles) without refueling, but also be agile enough to maneuver troops in dangerous hot spots.

The engineering and manufacturing development and low-rate production phase could be valued at approximately $7 billion. If a “full complement” of aircraft is purchased over the entire life of the fleet, the program could be in the range of $70 billion for potential foreign military sales, said Maj. Gen. Rob Barry, the Army’s aviation program executive officer. Is. , said during the media roundtable on December 5.

Complicating the Army’s vertical lift modernization efforts, the Army plans to develop and prepare a future attack reconnaissance aircraft with roughly the same timeline to accomplish the Scout mission. This duty was left vacant in 2013 when the Army decided to retire its Kiowa Warrior helicopters. Since then, the Army has filled that gap with teams of Apache helicopters and Shadow unmanned aircraft systems.

The contract represents a milestone for the service as the Army has not procured two major helicopters since the 1980s and several attempts to procure other helicopters over the past several decades have failed. For example, the service canceled the Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche helicopter program in 2004 after spending nearly $7 billion on its development.

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The FLRAA competition pitted two aircraft against each other: Bell’s V-280 Valor, a tiltrotor aircraft, and Sikorsky and Boeing’s Defiant X, which has coaxial rotor blades. Both aircraft were designed to fit in the same footprint as the Black Hawk.

“This is our largest and most complex competitive procurement that we have executed in the Army … in the history of Army Aviation,” Barry told Defense News earlier this year. “That system is going to be with us for a long time; It goes without saying that we want to ensure that everything is done correctly and in a disciplined manner.”

In a December 5 statement, Scott Donnelly, Textron’s chief executive officer, said the company “is honored that the US Army has selected the Bell V-280 Valor as its next-generation attack aircraft. We are committed to meeting the Army’s mission requirements.” want to honor that trust by building a truly remarkable and transformative weapon system to meet

The decision, which was expected earlier this year, was initially one of the most anticipated Army awards in 2022. While service acquisition chief Doug Bush told Defense News in October that the award would come in weeks, he also said an announcement would be “conditions-“. based.”

Major procurement programs are often opposed, putting pressure on the military to ensure that awards are “protest-proof”.

Bush said the effort required the sourcing board to take a very careful and deliberate approach.

“There is a process that the source-selection board goes through not only to select sources but then, importantly, to audit itself and others to ensure that it was done correctly ,” They said. “It takes a while, but we want to make absolutely sure that we do it the right way and that we get the best for the military.”

A statement sent by the Army after the award announcement to Bell, Sikorsky and Boeing said they are “convinced that the DEFIANT X is the transformative aircraft the US military needs to accomplish its complex missions today and into the future.” We will evaluate our next steps after reviewing the feedback received from the Army.

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Both FLRAA demonstrator aircraft carried out test flights for several years. They first flew in the military in what was called a joint multi-role, or JMR, technology demonstration, which was followed by two phases of a competitive development and risk mitigation effort.

While the Valor’s first flight was right on schedule in December 2017, Sikorsky and Boeing faced a number of issues leading up to its expected first flight, which was delayed more than a year.

First, in early August 2017, Sikorsky’s Raider aircraft, essentially a smaller version of the Defiant that the company built and flew, crashed at its test flight facility in West Palm Beach, Florida. This left Sikorsky with one raider aircraft to continue in its internal testing program to refine its X2 coaxial helicopter technology for both the FLRAA program and the Army’s future attack reconnaissance aircraft effort.

The company then struggled to make the Defiant’s rotor blades due to manufacturing issues, which led to delays.

The team expected to fly by the end of 2018, but while running the powertrain system test bed, engineers discovered several issues that forced them to pause testing. The Defiant finally flew for the first time in March 2019.

Once the JMR demonstration phase was over, the Army continued the gallant and defiant flight through two other phases of competitive demonstration and risk mitigation efforts that last year.

Before Bell retired its Valor flight demonstrator in June 2021, the V-280 flew more than 214 hours and showed off low-speed agility and long-range cruise capabilities, and reached a maximum 305-knot cruising speed.

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Five Army experimental test pilots have flown the V-280 in 15 sorties, according to a company statement. Bell used feedback from army pilots, mechanics and infantry squads to inform design plans.

According to Sikorsky, the Defiant flew a total of 63.9 hours, traveled as fast as 247 knots and demonstrated maneuverability at tree height in excess of 200 knots. The aircraft also tested more than 60-degree banked turns, performed confined area-landing operations, and externally lifted a 5,300-pound Guided Multiple Launcher Rocket Storage Pod. The aircraft was also flown by several US Army experimental test pilots.

FLRAA prototypes from Bell are due in service until 2025. The initial contract obligation is $232 million, with a limit of $1.3 billion if the option is exercised beyond the initial contract.

The initial phase allows the military to continue with preliminary design and then design, develop and deliver a virtual prototype, according to Barry.

The FLRAA is expected to enter the fleet in 2030, around the same time that the Army plans for fielding future attack reconnaissance aircraft. Bell and Lockheed Martin are competing to build FARA.

The service plans to introduce FARA along with FLRAA around 2030. The two teams building the prototypes aim to have them flying by the end of 2023. Improved turbine engine program. The ITEP engines went into the testing process before delivery earlier this year following delays due to the pandemic.

The military recently said it would postpone delivery of ITEP engines for the aircraft from late 2022 to spring 2023 due to additional supply chain and technical issues.

Jane Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. He has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. He has a Master of Science degree in Journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.


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