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US Army cancels FARA helicopter programmes to fund UAS and Black Hawk procurement

9th February 2024 - 12:18 GMT | by Norbert Neumann in London

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One of the reasons for cancelling the FARA competition was the shift in Army aviation focus based on lessons learned from recent conflict across the globe. (Photo: Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky)

The cancellation of the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) has reflected a shift in focus towards uncrewed systems in response to evolving battlefield dynamics and lessons learned from recent conflicts.

The US Army has announced the cancellation of its multi-billion dollar Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) programme, putting an end to a significant initiative aimed at developing and producing advanced attack and scout helicopters. 

Instead, funds will be reallocated to prioritise the procurement of uncrewed aerial systems (UAS), bolstering the UH-60M Black Hawk fleet, and advancing the development of the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA), Army officials said on 8 February. This decision underscored the Army’s strategic response to emerging global threats and changing reconnaissance requirements.

The US Army initiated the FARA project in 2018 to develop a replacement for various rotorcraft, such as the OH-58D Kiowa and some of the older AH-64 Apaches. It had already invested at least US$2 billion and planned to spend a total of $20 billion on the effort. FARA contenders Sikorsky and Bell have funnelled significant sums into their respective prototype platforms as well.

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As Shephard reported last October, both competitors have received the first two T901 flight test engines for their Competitive Prototypes under the Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP), with test flights scheduled for later this year.

“We are disappointed in this decision and will await a US Army debrief to better understand its choice,” a Sikorsky spokesperson told Shephard. The spokesperson added that the company remained confident that its X2 (Raider) aircraft offered unmatched capabilities with $1 billion worth of investment having been pumped into the system.

Bell expressed a similar sentiment, by saying the company was “disappointed by the decision on the FARA programme”, adding that it “remains confident in our ready-to-test FARA prototype for the Army’s requirements. We will apply the knowledge and demonstrated successes of our FARA development efforts on future aircraft.”

Bell will continue to work closely with the Army on executing the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program and their future vertical lift needs.

Army leaders said that one of the reasons for cancelling the competition was the shift in Army aviation focus based on lessons learned from recent conflict across the globe.

“We are learning from the battlefield — especially Ukraine — that aerial reconnaissance has fundamentally changed,” said US Army chief of staff Gen Randy George. “Sensors and weapons mounted on a variety of unmanned systems and in space are more ubiquitous, further reaching and more inexpensive than ever before.” 

The necessity to invest billions in uncrewed systems was one of the main factors that resulted in the cancellation of FARA, head of Army Futures Command Gen James Rainey told reporters. While the requirement for an attack and scout platform capability remained, the Army does not plan to launch another crewed FARA-like platform competition.

Analysis of alternatives for FARA

Cancelling FARA did not come as a complete surprise to observers, as an Analysis of Alternatives (AOA) has been underway, raising concerns about the prospect of the effort. The US Army had to conduct an AOA due to criticisms from lawmakers, including Rep Rob Wittman, who questioned the programme’s expenditure of billions of dollars without a formal exploration. 

Bell said in June it believed the US Army was on “very solid grounds” and very “defined” in what it wants from FARA, expressing confidence in the programme. Alternatives proposed for FARA included semi-autonomous and autonomous platform. 

A study conducted by MITRE last year, however, found that the Army would struggle to completely fulfil future reconnaissance roles with uncrewed platforms.

US Army FARA prototypes were 98% complete while Sikorsky and Bell were waiting for the ITEP engines. (Photo: Bell) 

In response to the cancellation news, Sikorsky also said: “To provide the US military and its allies a decisive advantage to deter conflict now and in the future, there must be a transformational improvement in rotorcraft systems capabilities – and a strong engineering workforce that can strengthen the nation’s leading edge in rotorcraft innovation.”

The four areas where the Army would invest the freed-up funds would be: a new multi-year procurement deal with Sikorsky for UH-60M Black Hawk line (while stopping the production of the UH-60V); continue FLRAA development as planned; additional investment for developing and buying uncrewed reconnaissance systems; and formally launching the production of the CH-47F Block II Chinook.

Army officials also said the service would phase out operations and sustainment of the Shadow and Raven programmes and will seek to invest in future tactical uncrewed systems instead.

Additionally, the Army will maintain the ITEP in the development rather than transitioning it into production. Delivery of six additional engines have taken place, programme executive officer for US Army aviation Brig Gen David Phillips said, with another two expected to arrive in May.

The T901 engine was not only expected to power the FARA winner but also replace the T700 engine currently used on all AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

“All that is on track, we’re learning from all that effort and we’re really putting all that learning to use and how we’re thinking about integrating it in Apache, how we’re thinking about integrating it in Black Hawk long-term,” Phillips noted.

Norbert Neumann

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Norbert Neumann


Norbert is the Aviation, Military Training & Simulation reporter at Shephard Media. Before joining Shephard in …

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