WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift program is getting “significant” levels of attention from militaries around the globe, eight of which have already sent letters of interest to the service, the head of the FVL program said Sept. 10.

“We’re working with multiple international partners on bilateral agreements … and we’re pursuing those letters of interest,” Brig. Gen. Wally Rugen, director of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team, said during a panel at the Defense News Conference.

Rugen declined to comment on what nations have expressed interest in the program but said that the Army has remained engaged with those countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve done a number of virtual meetings with our partners to keep the momentum up during COVID, and we have very good planning on our 2021 engagements going forward,” he said. “The exportability, interoperability and the cooperation is being studied deeply. [We’re] talking about [liaison officers] coming into the FVL office.”

The Army intends to develop and field two rotorcraft in the early 2030s as part of the FVL program: future attack reconnaissance aircraft, which will take over the reconnaissance mission currently performed by a mix of the AH-64 Apache helicopter and RQ-7 Shadow drone; and the future long-range attack aircraft, which will replace the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.

Both are on budget and on schedule, Rugen said.

The service recently awarded 10 contracts worth a total of $29.75 million to companies that will develop a series of “air-launched effects” for its future vertical lift aircraft, which could include sensors, mesh networking technologies and other payloads. Future contracts for air-launched effects could present sales opportunities for foreign defense contractors, Rugen said during the panel.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for our international partners in this space. I think it’s very wide open. And the reason it’s so wide open is” is that such technologies are “affordable and effective,” he said.

In addition to the effort focused on air-launched effects, the Army is in the middle of multiple future tactical UAV demonstrations, which will ultimately pave the way for a replacement of the Shadow drone. Soldiers are assessing the four candidate systems through a series of field tests and exercises: the V-Bat system offered by Martin UAV and Northrop Grumman; Textron’s Aerosonde HQ; the Arcturus UAV JUMP 20; and L3Harris' FVR-90.

“The soldiers are extremely excited but giving us good feedback,” Rugen said. “They’re not being easy on us [on] what to fix, what to do different. And that’s the kind of data and information that’s going to give us just a rock-solid requirement that we can move out on and get this into units where it’s militarized, ruggedized and ready to go.”

Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.

More In Defense News Conference