ATLANTA — After several years of stressing the importance of finding a solution for pilots that have to fly through blinding clouds of sand at past Aviation Association of America summits, the Army appears to truly be moving forward incrementally with a way to solve the serious problem.
Brownouts — also referred to as Degraded Visual Environments — have cost the Army many lives and over $1 billion in aircraft damage from crashes that have occurred in 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Two years ago the Army was talking about a program called the Brownout Rotorcraft Enhancement System (BORES) as a possible materiel solution, but at that time the Army had to back off efforts like BORES to deal with a tight overall aviation budget caused by sequestration.
Brig. Gen. Bob Marion, the Army's aviation program executive officer, said he had just taken the job when the Army decided to walk back on BORES. "We were going to continue to modernize flight controls, we were going to continue to modernize symbology across our modernized aircraft and that was how we were going to get after the DVE challenge," he said at the AAAA's Mission Solutions Summit on Saturday.
"Given our current funding situation," two years ago when he assumed his position, "it was unaffordable to try to do that in the near term, so we were going to do that when we got to [Future Vertical Lift] in the long term. In the meantime, the Army would adjust doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures and training plans to try to deal with the DVE problem.
But since then, the Army has said it needs to take another look at the serious DVE issue, according to Marion. "There has been additional emphasis on that requirement, there's been great support inside the headquarters, Department of the Army, to fund this capability. So we now have a path forward."
That path forward is ambitious schedule-wise. The Army wants to reach an engineering and manufacturing development phase and a production phase through the start of full-rate production all in the next five years.
The Army needs to deliver the capability "as soon as we possibly can," he stressed, "with integrated sensing while also taking advantage of modernized flight controls and our symbology is going to be critical."
Yet despite the speed at which the Army will act to bring DVE capability to its helicopter fleet, BORES will not be the full solution or the full requirement the Army needs.
BORES will aid pilots in brownouts during take-off, landing, limited hover and ground taxiing, Marion said. The solution is only forward-looking and only in brownout environments, Marion said.
The Army put out a request for information in the November and December time frame to find out what industry was working on in the realm of DVE solutions, Col. Mathew Hannah, the program manager for aviation systems responsible for BORES, said at AAAA Saturday.
The service held an event in February with 110 participants across 30 government organizations that had something either going on with DVE or were thinking about the issue, he added.
After gathering industry and government information, the Army then looked over requirements again at the Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Ala., and "determined that the materiel solution that the government was already working could meet the BORES program," Hannah said.
The new strategy will allow the Army to get after the problem "much faster," he said.
"But that is with a certain caveat in that it's for a very limited number of systems, approximately 300," Hannah said. "And it's only for the brownout environment, not the other 10 environments."
The Army has determined there are 11 specific environments that fall in the DVE category to include snow, visible moisture, fog, rain and varying grains of sand, according to Marion.
BORES will only cover a single aircraft rather than work as a system that coordinates in tandem with a formation of multiple aircraft, Hannah said.
And the aircraft's DVE system won't cover a 360-degree picture of possible hazards nor will it cover sensing and awareness throughout an entire flight, he noted.
"It is not the full DVE solution," Hannah said.
The plan is to take BORES into production and field it within the fiscal 2019-2020 time frame while moving forward with a more encompassing approach. Fort Rucker will be writing the requirement for what it really wants for a full DVE solution, according to Hannah, and will be conducting an analysis of alternatives over the next year, followed by developing a requirements document that clearly indicates the way forward.
"We believe it will be all 11 environments, multi-ship, 360-degree coverage around the aircraft, but that is still to be determined by the AOA and the requirements document," Hannah added.