Defense industry analysts said it has long been clear the Army needed to end its Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft program.
Indeed, concerns about the program came before the war in Ukraine and as drones became commonplace on battlefields throughout the world.
And so when the service announced last week it would cancel its multibillion-dollar scout helicopter program, just weeks before the release of the fiscal 2025 budget, the news came as a surprise for its timing, but not for its content.
Instead, what is less clear is what the cancellation means for Army Futures Command, the organization tasked with reimagining the department’s modernization efforts. When leaders created Futures Command five years ago, Army leaders described FARA as a top priority.
Given that its job is “to understand the future and shape Army requirements accordingly, you can’t help looking at this cancellation as a blow for that organization,” said Thomas Spoehr, a retired Army three-star general and defense expert.
House Armed Services Committee Vice chairman Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., announced he would call for a hearing on the cancellation.
Bradley Bowman of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies think tank told Defense News it was the right decision to cancel the program in favor of spending on unmanned systems.
“Given what we and our adversaries have seen and learned in Ukraine, as well as the Army’s insufficient budget, it seems to me the burden [of] proof is on anyone who argues that the Army should be spending billions of dollars on a manned rotary-wing armed reconnaissance program instead of unmanned systems,” he said.
Bowman noted the cancellation is an acquisition failure, but said it comes amid several key successes for Army Futures Command, which nearly reached its goal of putting 24 new systems into soldiers’ hands by the end of 2023.
“Anyone suggesting it is all sunshine or all failure is not seeing the full picture,” he said.
Byron Callan too said some bumpiness is expected.
“It’s unrealistic for industry to expect complete stability and predictability in acquisitions,” said Callan of Capital Alpha Partners. “That doesn’t exist in the commercial sector. Technology and changing consumer demands, taste, drives change. Defense, to a degree, is no different.”
Lawmakers are already expressing concerns about the decision. In a statement late last week, the congressional delegation from Connecticut, where Sikorsky is headquartered, demanded more explanation from the service.
They wrote they want more details from the Army on “how they plan to achieve crucial aviation capabilities, thoughtfully prepare our national defense for the future, and utilize the exceptional and seasoned workforce at Sikorsky for generations to come.”
Congress, according to Roman Schweizer, a defense analyst at TD Cowen, “could reverse some changes.”
The service had spent roughly $2 billion on the program, and Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky and Bell Textron also invested internally to compete for the chance to provide the Army’s next armed scout helicopter. Both were building aircraft and expected to fly later this year.
Loren Thompson, a defense industry consultant, said the cancellation isn’t likely to damage the Army’s relationship with industry because it came relatively early.
“Keep in mind this program had not been awarded, nobody’s actually losing anything that they were certain to get,” Thompson said.
Pointing to the service pairing the cancellation of FARA with plans to upgrade its unmanned aircraft and buying more modernized UH-60 Black Hawks and the Boeing-manufactured CH-47F Block II Chinook cargo helicopters, Thompson said the “Army has made the change, of course, more palatable for industry because it has thought through the impacts for each of the major players.”
“Boeing no longer needs to be worried and Textron’s biggest program win in a generation remains intact,” Thompson added, referring to Bell Textron’s win against a Boeing-Sikorsky team to build the Army’s Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft at the end of 2022.
Bryant Harris contributed to this report.
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.