WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is still considering two different paths to build prototypes for its future long-range assault aircraft following an industry day earlier this month, but is pushing toward a contract award in fiscal 2022, according to the service’s FLRAA program manager.
While the Army continues to sift through industry feedback to help it choose a route, the service remains on track to publish a draft request for proposals by the end of the year, followed by a finalized RFP in FY21, Col. David Phillips told reporters July 24.
The Army chose Bell and Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky to enter into a competitive demonstration and risk reduction effort ahead of the start of the FLRAA program of record. The service is on a tight timeline to field a brand-new, long-range assault aircraft by 2030. The CDRR effort will consist of two phases that will last roughly one year each.
Bell and a Sikorsky-Boeing team respectively designed, built and flew technology demonstrator aircraft as part a Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration phase prior to entering the CDRR effort. The companies will deliver initial conceptual designs, an assessment of the feasibility of requirements and trade studies using model-based systems engineering.
“Due to the success of phase one (awarded on 16 March) the Army is looking at the scope of a second phase which would refine the digital designs from the system to subsystem level and further burn down risk as FLRAA enters into the [program of record,” Phillips said in a written statement to Defense News on July 27.
The Army provided two schedules to get through the design and prototyping phase in an RFI in May to gain industry feedback.
The first schedule lasts 52 months, putting the end of the prototyping period somewhere in the ballpark of early summer 2026. The schedule allows for a preliminary design review for just the air vehicle from the winning team — picked in the second quarter of FY22 — eight months after the contract award.
The team would then have another preliminary design review for the weapon systems 17 months past contract award, which roughly falls around August 2023.
The Army would hit the engineering and manufacturing development phase around October 2023, followed by a critical design review in early 2025. The first prototype would be delivered in the summer of 2025, with five more prototypes delivered through the summer of 2026.
The alternative schedule would allow for a preliminary design review for both the air vehicle and the weapon systems at the same time at roughly 10 months following a contract award. This approach aims to get to an engineering and manufacturing development decision around March 2023. A critical design review would follow at the start of 2024, with a first prototype delivery expected around February 2025. All six prototypes should be delivered to the Army by roughly March 2026.
The total time frame for the second option is 48 months post contract award.
While the difference in schedules is just roughly four months, every week counts as the Army works to field new capabilities as fast as possible. Army leaders have often said that schedule is king when it comes to fielding the service’s top modernization priorities. FVL is the third-highest priority, preceded only by a Next-Generation Combat Vehicle and Long-Range Precision Fires.
The Army is driving toward entering a production and deployment phase in 2028 ahead of the first unit receiving the aircraft in 2030.
“We believe FLRAA’s design and requirements approach is inverting the defense procurement paradigm. Our approach gives the Army multiple opportunities to optimize requirements through digital engineering prior to entering the design, build, and test of the weapons system,” Phillips told Defense News. “Making informed decisions on requirements through design optimization will enable the Army to ensure FLRAA capabilities are affordable; meet [Multi-Domain Operations] requirements; and deliver on an aggressive schedule that does not sacrifice rigor for speed.”
Multi-Domain Operations is the Army’s war-fighting doctrine designed to operate and fight against anticipated future adversaries across land, sea, air and cyberspace.
Bell and Lockheed are also competing head-to-head to design and build the Army’s future attack reconnaissance aircraft, which will follow a nearly simultaneous schedule as the FLRAA competition.
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.