WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin is designing a future attack reconnaissance aircraft for the U.S. Army using its Raider X2 coaxial technology with a focus on how it will perform “at the X.”
Sikorsky, a Lockheed subsidiary, which has a long history of providing UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters to the Army, has been working with the service on how an aircraft should perform in an armed reconnaissance or scout mission for several years.
“One thing that always comes out is the importance of this aircraft at the X,” Tim Malia, Sikorsky’s director of future vertical lift light, told Defense News in an interview. “The ‘X’ is defined by the Army as the terminal area where they actually have to go do the work, do the reconnaissance, do the attack mission. The operation at the X is really critical for this program and for this platform.”
That’s where Raider X comes in. It’s a slightly larger version of the Raider coaxial helicopter that Lockheed has been flying for several years at its West Palm Beach, Florida, flight test center.
The company is unveiling its design at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference on Oct. 14.
Lockheed is one of five companies designing aircraft in a competition to build the Army’s future attack reconnaissance aircraft, or FARA. Two teams will be chosen to build helicopter prototypes by 2023 and fly them in a head-to-head competition. A production decision could happen in 2028, but the service wants to speed up that timeline.
The Raider X is scaled up to meet the maximum 40-foot-diameter rotor requirement set by the Army for it’s FARA effort, but Malia would not provide specifics because as the company continues to pull data from flight tests of the Raider demonstrator — which has a 34-foot rotor — it continues to analyze what that perfect rotor length might be.
The company already has experience dramatically scaling the technology to build the now-flying SB-1 Defiant coaxial helicopter it built with Boeing for the Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator program that is informing requirements for the service’s future long-range assault aircraft, or FLRAA, which will be fielded nearly in parallel with FARA.
Raider was specifically designed with an armed scout mission in mind and was an offering in the most recent failed Armed Scout program to replace the Army’s OH-58D Kiowa Warrior.
Lockheed chose to submit a coaxial rotor design because the technology will serve the Army well into the future. While the aircraft could begin fielding in the late 2020s, “we don’t want to just provide the Army with a solution for the late 2020s,” Malia said. “We know that this platform,” while it fills a critical gap that is open today, “is going to be what the Army has in its inventory for 40 or 50 years."
When choosing whether to go with a single main rotor helicopter or advance its coaxial helicopter design, the company asked: “Where do we go to a more advanced technology that we think has longer legs for the future?” Malia said.
“We obviously ended up with the coaxial design based on X2 technology, not because we had the technology, but because we thought that that was going to best serve the Army and potentially other customers in the future for many, many years to come,” Malia added.
A single main rotor helicopter — like the Comanche, which Sikorsky designed and built as the Army’s armed reconnaissance helicopter, an effort that was ultimately canceled — would have been able to meet 2020 requirements for FARA, Malia said, but there were a number of trade-offs.
“To get to 180 knots,” for instance, which is the Army’s threshold speed requirement, “it is possible for a single main rotor, but you’re right at the end of the capability of that.”
The Raider X will go well into the 200-knot speed range, Malia said, but it will also have room to expand to accommodate existing and future weapons, like air-launched effects. And it could convert to a multimission aircraft that has a cabin if the Army ever needs it for moving people, he added.
The company’s design also takes into account the ability to maintain the aircraft in the field. Malia said that one of misnomers about its X2 coaxial technology, as it’s relatively new, is that it’s more complicated. But the aircraft is designed with half the parts, and the parts that typically cause the most trouble when it comes to frequent maintenance like the dampers and rotorheads are eliminated from the design.
And while X2 technology is newer, Sikorsky has spent years maturing the technology, first in its X2 demonstrator and secondly in its Raider aircraft.
“We’ve had great success running the aircraft at high speed, high altitude, low speed, doing maneuverability testing with the ADS-33 [handling quality specifications],” Malia said. “We have already achieved level-one handling qualities with the prototype aircraft. We’ve done acoustics testing, we have done fly-by-wire controlled optimization.”
But the maturation process has not come without problems. Raider experienced a hard landing in August 2017. However, the company got back on track with a second version of the experimental prototype in June 2018.
According to Sikorsky test pilot Bill Fell, the Raider has reached up to 207 knots of level flight and is expected to go faster before the end of the year. He said two-thirds of the flight time logged on Raider have been in the last 12 to 14 months, hitting roughly 40 hours of flight time.
And Raider is proving to be an extremely easy helicopter to quickly master, according to Fell. The test pilot said that another pilot recently flew Raider for the first time, and within five minutes behind the flight controls he was performing difficult level-one handling quality mission maneuvers on the ADS-33 course. According to Fell, the pilot said it was the easiest aircraft to hold airspeed and altitude without a hold capability on the aircraft. The helicopter will have one, but doesn’t yet.
Lockheed plans to tap into its own technology development when it comes to modular open-systems architecture for mission systems and avionics, but there will be obvious differences to what is designed for FARA versus what the company has spent years developing for the Bell V-280 Valor helicopter, the other Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator that has been flying to inform the FLRAA competition.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.