WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army’s Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft program passed through the Army Requirements Oversight Council’s gauntlet and received preliminary approval of its abbreviated capabilities development document, bringing the aircraft a step closer to a competitive procurement, according to the head of the service’s future vertical lift efforts.
The service is on a tight timeline to field a brand-new, long-range assault aircraft by 2030.
“The AROC went well,” Brig. Gen. Wally Rugen told Defense News in an Oct. 6 interview. “The aviation enterprise continues to impress me, just our ability to drive on these tough administrative and requirements tasks and get them done on time and do what we said we were going to do.”
At the time of the interview, not all of the paperwork was signed and the ink wasn’t dry. However, Rugen said, “it was probably one of the best AROCs I have attended in my career.”
He was hesitant to go into too much detail regarding the contents of the draft request for proposals — expected before the end of the year — but said: “We really are focused on our air assault mission configuration” and what that means for the number of troops that would need to be aboard and what requirements are needed to conduct that mission in darkness. Otherwise, the FLRAA program won’t have “a ton of mandatory attributes” in order to “leave a lot of space for innovation as long as we achieve that air assault mission configuration.”
The Army envisions FLRAA as less of an aircraft for the aerial movement of troops and more for complementing the air assault mission, according to Rugen.
While the Army wants a squad and enablers in the back of the aircraft, “when you think about an air assault mission, it’s far more integrated,” he said..
“And when it comes to joint, when it comes to fires, when it comes to the tactical objective, the air movement — which is a bit more administrative in nature and not as intense on the combat scale — when we talk about air assault, we want transformational reach,” he added, “that ability to exploit any penetration and disintegration that the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft ecosystem, along with our joint partners has created.”
The Army wants the speed, range and endurance at range, which “we’ve really honed in over a year on the trades with that,” Rugen said.
“We are bounded also by what is achievable and affordable, and those inputs have come in and, again, really pleased with that balance between what we do on the requirements side and what the [program executive office] is doing in the competitive demonstration and risk-reduction phase on their side of the house to really get after those technologies.”
The Army has spent the good part of the last decade using a technology demonstration program to inform its requirements for FLRAA. Bell and a Sikorsky-Boeing team have each designed, built and flown technology demonstrators and are now both part of the ongoing risk-reduction phase. The companies are expected to compete head-to-head to build FLRAA for the Army.
Bell first flew its V-280 Valor tilt-rotor demonstrator in December 2017, and Sikorsky and Boeing flew their SB-1 Defiant coaxial helicopter in March 2019.
The Army plans to kick off the competition in the first half of next year with a request for proposals. The service was considering two different paths to build prototypes for FLRAA, but is pushing toward a contract award in fiscal 2022 for the winning team.
Prototypes would be delivered either in the spring or summer of 2026, depending on which path the Army decides to take. The Army is driving toward entering a production and deployment phase in 2028 ahead of the first unit receiving the aircraft in 2030.
At the same time the Army plans to procure a future attack reconnaissance aircraft along the same timeline. Bell and Lockheed Martin are locked into a head-to-head competition to build that aircraft for the service.
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.