WASHINGTON — Lawmakers would curb the U.S. Army secretary’s travel until the service shows a thorough analysis of alternatives to pursuing a Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, according to a draft of the fiscal 2024 policy bill released this week by the House Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces.
No more than 70% of the Office of the Secretary of the Army’s travel budget can be obligated or spent until Secretary Christine Wormuth submits that analysis for the FARA program to congressional defense committees, the mark of the bill laid out.
The Army completed a “very robust” analysis of alternatives in 2019 for its Future Long Range Assault Aircraft program, subcommittee Chairman Rob Wittman, R-Va., told Defense News in a June 14 interview. “So our question was why not the same for FARA?”
The Army chose Textron’s Bell to build the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft in December 2022.
As for the FARA program, the Army released a request for proposals in the summer of 2021 limited to two preselected teams — Lockheed Martin and Bell — for a competitive fly-off. Each team has essentially finished building prototypes and are awaiting the delayed Improved Turbine Engine Program engine in order to get off the ground for the fly-off phase of the competition. Flights are delayed by at least year. The current plan is to fly by the fourth quarter of FY24.
“Apparently they started out but never completed [the analysis of alternatives for FARA] and then came to a decision, and here’s where we’re going to go with the request for proposals on FARA,” Wittman said. “What we’re saying is that with all the things going on today with all the different service branches and looking at these platforms and looking at how do we have capability and capacity at the same time, they should do a very rigorous look at alternatives.”
There are other schools of thought on future attack and reconnaissance capabilities, Wittman said, pointing to the Marine Corps’ vision for semiautonomous and autonomous aircraft to reduce risk and “have a bigger footprint in that realm.”
Doug Bush, the Army’s acquisition chief, told Wittman during a hearing in April that the service is conducting an analysis of alternatives for the FARA program, noting the process was slowing the program in addition to the ITEP engine struggles.
Wittman said during the hearing that he is alarmed the Army is just now conducting an analysis of alternatives AOA for FARA — having already spent $2 billion on the program — and pressed Bush for what might happen if the review showed a better alternative to what is in development now.
Bush explained the analysis kicked off now because the Army had not decided on an acquisition pathway earlier in the program. The Army debated between whether it could enter the program at the engineering and manufacturing development stage, or if it should take a more traditional approach and go through a technology development phase.
“We decided the more responsible approach would be to go to a traditional Milestone B, which requires the AOA,” Bush said. “I think I’m confident though that the AOA, the way it’s structured, is fair. It’s very thorough, examining many alternatives. I think that’s good.”
“We’ll know more later this year,” he added. “I think we will be in a good place to know exactly where things are going to land in terms of the program schedule.”
Because of delays within the program, Bush said during the hearing, FARA’s technology maturation phase won’t begin until the first quarter of FY26.
The Army is continuing to develop systems for FARA, despite delays, that go beyond just the airframe, Maj. Gen. Wally Rugen, who is in charge of the service’s vertical lift modernization, told Defense News in April.
While the Army waits for the engine, it is developing the weapons systems and a critical modular, open-system architecture for the aircraft, Rugen said. “This is our effort to claw back schedule and claw back scope.”
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.