WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has shored up a congressionally mandated funding cut to its fiscal 2020 Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft development budget that would have affected its prototyping effort, according to service aviation leadership.
Congress cut $34 million to the FARA program, but it remains unclear why that cut was made. The Army said at the time that the cut would affect its ability to provide some government-furnished equipment to competitors that will be chosen to build and fly prototype aircraft as part of the effort. The Army had planned to provide the service’s new Improved Turbine Engine Program engine, a 20mm gun, an integrated munitions launcher and its modular open-systems architecture.
Brig. Gen. Wally Rugen, who is in charge of Army future vertical lift modernization efforts, said in January that the service would try to find creative ways to absorb the cut, but it might include having to pull back a bit on using government-furnished equipment.
The service chose two teams — Lockheed Martin-owned Sikorsky and Bell — to build prototypes for the FARA competition on March 25.
“We were taking risk in the GFE based on the funding cuts that we took,” Dan Bailey, the Army’s FARA competitive prototyping program manager within the Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation and Missile Center, told a group of reporters via teleconference March 26.
But based on the two competitors downselected out of a pool of five designs, the Army was able to recoup some funds, “not fully re-fund that into GFE, but get GFE back to a reasonable risk point for FY20,” Bailey said.
All five companies designing possible prototypes over the past year were given contracts that would have fully funded each through the building and flight testing of the prototypes. The contracts were designed to basically turn off the funding spigot for those not chosen to continue in the competition.
“Fundamentally, we’re able to do the full scope that we were planning to do,” Bailey said. “Even though we took the cut, our decisions and where we’re at postured with these two performers have put us back on full scope really, at a lower cost value for this year.”
The Army was able to call back providing the 20mm cannon, the integrated munitions launcher and the modular open-systems architecture — “so that is the FVL ecosystem risk reduction that we really want to hone in on, so again, not just focused on the air vehicle, but focused on the weapon systems,” Rugen said on the same call with reporters.
While the two companies that were picked did help the service make up for the congressional cut to the program, it was not the reason they were selected.
“The two that we picked were deemed as most advantageous overall for the government,” Bailey said, “and so that really was the metric.”
Underneath that, the Army looked at each aircraft’s ability to meet the mission, the designs’ maturity, and how well they were postured to meet the schedule laid out, transition into a final integration qualification phase, and then into production, Bailey said.
The prototype aircraft are expected to start flying in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2022, and the flight test is expected to run through 2023. The engineering and manufacturing development phase is expected to begin in FY24.
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.