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AUSA 2021: US Army remains sanguine on FVL schedule and cost estimates

14th October 2021 - 15:30 GMT | by David Isby in Washington DC

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The Bell Invictus 360 is one of the contenders in the Future Attack and Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) armed scout helicopter programme. (Image: Bell)

The US Army maintains a close watch on costs amid progress on major new rotorcraft programmes.

The Future Vertical Lift (FVL) rotorcraft programme is on course to get two new-design aircraft in service by 2030, MG Walter Rugen, head of the FVL Cross-Functional Team (CFT) for US Army Futures Command, said on 13 October during the annual AUSA event in Washington DC.

The Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA), intended to replace the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk, is now in the source selection phase. The two competing prototypes for the Future Attack and Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) armed scout helicopter, the Bell Invictus 360 and the Sikorsky Raider X2, are under construction.

Rugen acknowledged that the decision to proceed with two simultaneous US Army rotorcraft programmes remains controversial.

‘Simultaneity always comes up. It hearkens back to the 1990s,’ he said, referring to a time when a multiplicity of competing programmes first delayed and ultimately contributed to the decision to cancel the Comanche scout helicopter programme.

Yet the goal in the FVL programme to produce two new clean-sheet complex military aircraft with cutting-edge technologies runs the risk of cost increases. The compressed timeframe could lead to an increased reliance on concurrency in development and production.

Rugen said that the FVL CFT has been ‘heavily engaged with cost estimators, working on parametric cost estimates from day one’ of the programme. He added that cost estimates from the Department of the Army and the Cost Assistant and Program Evaluation directorate in the DoD had assessed the feasibility of the FVL programme schedule and projected lifecycle costs.

Rugen also said he considered affordability the ‘crown jewel’ of the programme.

MG David Francis, who commands the US Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker in Alabama, also expressed confidence on 13 October that the FVL programme is unlikely to suffer from large-scale cost increases and schedule delays.

‘Risk has been bought down by technology demonstrators’ flown for the two FLRAA designs, he said, resulting in ‘better-informed requirements than in any previous programme’.

Francis added: ‘Industry has demonstrated capabilities we are looking for.’

The US Army recently demonstrated Air Launched Effects (ALE), which is a family of guided weapons and UAVs capable of mounting explosive and non-kinetic effects warheads or carrying out ISR missions.

ALE will be launched from the FARA platform as well as from other aircraft (including the General Atomics MQ-9A Reaper and MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs) using the Modular Effects Launcher (MEL).

Two ALE air vehicles were launched from a MEL mounted on a UH-60 Black Hawk, which acted as a surrogate FARA aircraft during testing in the first week of October.

‘The ALE Modular Effects Launcher is an open systems launcher. This prototype effort is to inform the launcher that goes into the FARA design,’ Rugen said.

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