UPDATE — This story has been updated to include information from Sikorsky on its flight test program.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has awarded contracts to both Bell and a Sikorsky-Boeing team to continue into a second phase of competitive development and risk reduction as the service prepares to begin its formal program to acquire a future long-range assault aircraft, or FLRAA, by 2030.
Awarded through the Aviation and Missile Technology Consortium, Bell and the Sikorsky-Boeing team will each conduct a preliminary analysis of requirements for Special Operations Command, including for medical evacuation and features that allow for the aircraft’s export to other countries, according to a March 30 Army statement.
At the start of the official program of record for FLRAA in 2022, the Army will choose a winner between the two teams to build prototypes.
The competitive demonstration and risk reduction, or CDRR, phase was set up a year ago to transition technologies from the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration, or JMR-TD, effort to the FLRAA weapons systems design.
The Army awarded contracts to both teams a year ago to continue conducting analysis to refine requirements, conceptual designs and acquisition approaches needed to successfully execute the FLRAA program.
Through the JMR-TD phase and into CDRR, Bell flew its V-280 Valor tilt-rotor aircraft, and the Sikorsky-Boeing team flew its SB-1 Defiant coaxial demonstrator. Defiant had more trouble getting off the ground due to issues in manufacturing its rotor blades, and thus started the JMR-TD phase over a year late, taking off for the first time in March 2019. V-280′s first flight was in December 2017.
In a March 31 statement, Bell said that, through a “rigorous flight test program,” the aircraft has flown more than 200 hours during more than 160 individual test flights that “delivered critical data to validate Bell’s digital models and performance.”
Defiant has logged 31 flights accumulating 26 hours in the air, but has also logged 1,500 hours in its system integration lab and 148 hours in its propulsion test bed, according to a March 31 Lockheed Martin statement. Lockheed Martin owns Sikorsky.
The CDRR will allow the winner to complete preliminary design reviews for both the air vehicle and weapons systems in less than a year after the programmatic contract award, the Army statement noted, “thus advancing the schedule to an earlier decision” to enter into engineering and manufacturing development.
An earlier decision “will provide more time for detailed design, building and testing of prototype air vehicles,” the statement read.
“The award of these agreements is a significant milestone for FLRAA,” Brig. Gen. Rob Barrie, the Army’s program executive officer for aviation, said in the statement. “CD&RR Phase II accelerates digital engineering design work to the subsystem level and mitigates industrial base workforce risk while maintaining competition.”
Through the CDRR, “Army leaders have had the ability to make early, informed decisions ensuring FLRAA capabilities are not only affordable, but that they meet Multi-Domain Operations requirements while delivering on an aggressive schedule that does not sacrifice rigor for speed,” he added.
The first phase of the CDRR focused on tackling a laundry list of technologies identified through an independent technology readiness assessment conducted by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Some of those technologies included the powertrain, drivetrain and control laws of the aircraft.
The CDRR is also designed to allow the Army to work on the integration of its mission systems.
“Crucial to the success of FLRAA’s objectives is the deliberate integration of a Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) into its requirements, acquisition and sustainment strategy,” the statement said. “MOSA is a critical enabler for improving lifecycle affordability, directly aligning with Army Aviation objectives to achieve sustained affordability and deliver continuous capability upgrades against future threats.”
The Army is also seeking to field a future attack reconnaissance aircraft in a nearly parallel timeline with FLRAA as part of a future vertical lift ecosystem that will include air-launched effects capable of being used in a multidomain environment with dramatically increased speed and range.
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.