Joint Multi-Role, On a Roll The U.S. Army’s next generation of helicopters are on the way as the Future Vertical Lift program moves forward.

Kevin Hunter

Joint Multi-Role, On a Roll
The U.S. Army’s next generation of helicopters are on the way as the
Future Vertical Lift program moves forward.

The U.S. Army is taking the lead on a joint DoD umbrella effort to replace a large portion, and ultimately all, of the service’s tactical helicopter fleet. Through the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program, advanced helicopters fulfilling roles from attack to heavy transport will eventually transition into several programs of record designed to replace decades-old choppers. The Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration (JMR TD) component, in which vendors will design and build an aircraft to prove performance, operational viability, airworthiness, and mission systems architecture, is one of multiple core science & technology endeavors for the initiative.

In 2008, the U.S. Congress issued an RFI to the DoD regarding plans for modernizing its vertical lift force. Aging airframes, rising cost of sustainment, risk of malfunction, a declining industrial base, and other concerns drove DoD to consider options for progressing its vertical lift capabilities into the next generation at an affordable cost. "With some aircraft as much as 60 years old still operating today, including Vietnam War–era airframe design such as the CH-47 Chinook still critical to fleet operations and even the V-22 Osprey design which comes from the XV-3 and XV-15 demonstrators first tested in the late 70s and early 80s,today’s U.S. military family of helicopters is in need of more than just an upgrade," said Dan Bailey, project manager, JMR TD/FVL for the Army. "That said, the FVL initiative is an effort to replace all DoD, multi-agency, commercial, and ultimately international sector designs with a next-generation vertical lift fleet. From development to eventual fielding, this sweeping replacement will be long-term and systematic," Bailey added.

In 2011, the FVL Strategy was signed by the Deputy Secretary of Defense, which facilitated development of an Initial Capabilities Document (ICD) laying out broad program requirements for a material solution, signed in April 2013. "What is interesting about the ICD is that it covers a family of systems consisting of four distinct classes of airframe designs: light, medium, heavy, and ultra-heavy," noted Bailey.

With the ICD as a starting point, the Army began homing requirements for an envisioned FVL fleet with the idea that each class of aircraft would have similar capabilities outside of payload, possessing similar speed, range, and mission capabilities with greater modularity in form and less variation in function than seen in today’s independently-evolved, less cross-compatible designs. "In looking at just a couple of survivability aspects such as situational awareness and the ability to fly in degraded visual environments, it’s clear that these capabilities are no less significant to attack operations as they are to cargo transport operations," Bailey indicated. "Building different size aircraft that couple a multirole capacity with the technology applicable to an intended mission set is the approach we are taking. A light aircraft design would probably handle utility, attack, and recon missions, outfitted with systems targeted to those missions, but possessing commonality with medium, heavy, and ultra-heavy designs within the family.

"Current analysis and S&T efforts to date have informed program officials that different configurations are more applicable to different size airframes; hence, design focus for a light aircraft will likely differ in some form from an ultra-heavy chassis. "Even though there may not be dynamic component commonalities between an ultra-heavy and a light airframe, we expect that there will be shared modularity from architecture and mission equipment perspectives," Bailey noted. "The idea is that the capacity for mission requirements that exist today will be packaged as smaller, more efficient, and streamlined hardware directly applicable to each class of FVL aircraft."

With equipment commonality, the Army expects common training opportunities will come across each class of aircraft, a dynamic not often seen across the service’s current vertical lift fleet. "Despite the fact that each service today operates a ‘60 Hawk’ design, there are enough differences in hardware and software componentry that individualizes them enough to limit equipment commonality and cross-training potential," Bailey remarked. "This becomes critical when a Marine Corps-operated platform flies into an Army installation and can’t get a needed fix because parts are not available or personnel are not trained to handle that type of design.

Presently an OSD-driven, Army-led program, JMR TD efforts have concentrated on a selected medium class design due to the existence of a large number of medium airframe designs in current use across the services. Because of a lack of any recent re-design in proven vertical lift capability for several decades, the Army conducted a configuration trades and analysis in partnership with industry over an 18-20 month period in 2012-13. The intent was to shore up competencies and skills in design and design-tradeoffs and to provide greater clarity as to requirements needed for initial development of a medium class FVL. At that point, proposals were solicited from industry to finalize a design, using the gathered set of requirements, for construction of an aircraft flight demonstrator to be air and ground tested from FY 15 to FY 19, when the first FVL program of record sees contract award for the Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction phase.

In September 2013, four companies were awarded initial design technology investment contracts for approximately a one-year period: AVX Aircraft, Karem Aircraft, Bell, and a partnership of Sikorsky/ Boeing. Based on Army resource analysis completed during the period
of 2013-14, the service decided it could afford two designs; in July 2014, Bell and Sikorsky/Boeing were chosen to continue to design completion, prototype fabrication, and vehicle flight test. However, from this initial design effort, the Army will continue technology maturation efforts including ground testing and wind tunnel testing
with the remaining two partners, AVX and Karem. "Our strategy is to best position industry based on an evolving
set of requirements so that once initial TD phase testing is completed in FY 19, the FVL program of record can start anew with TM&RR phase contract awards for development of the FVL prototypes," Bailey indicated.

Presently, the DoD FVL requirements community, including input from the Joint Services, is finalizing a schedule to have a set of draft requirements for the first FVL program by 2017. An ongoing joint staff concept of operations (CONOPS) review and trades analysis period involving high priority missions across the services such as the Army’s air assault mission, the Navy’s anti-submarine warfare mission, SOCOM’s direct interdiction mission, and the USMC’s humanitarian assistance/disaster relief mission is currently underway to determine a top 15 CONOPS and to define a capabilities set for an initial medium FVL airframe design.

"The goal here is to maximize the chance of requirements precision in determining the best design for a medium FVL that executes ‘X’ mission while maintaining flexibility across a whole family of modularly scalable but mission-driven aircraft," Bailey emphasized.

Industry Input
Boeing & Sikorsky

"We represent the current incumbents in both the Army’s utility and attack helicopter programs, and we believe no team is better suited to meet the development and production needs of FVL," Pat Donnelly, JMR TD program director at Boeing, told A&M. "To help the requirements community more accurately predict the performance of their target solution, we will build one aircraft in late FY 17. This technology demonstrator will allow the customer to make informed decisions on true requirements for FVL. Our Defiant demonstrator aircraft will display the solutions the team is developing to overcome technology challenges and leverage the technology investments both companies have made."

Doug Shidler, Sikorsky’s JMR TD program director, described the technical features of the SB>1: "The current FVL requirement defines a vehicle that can go nearly twice as far and twice as fast as the current fleet of AH-64 and UH-60 helicopters. Our SB>1 Defiant is based on Sikorsky’s X2 lift offset coaxial design. With counter rotating main rotors and a pusher prop, our aircraft has the low speed agility and maneuverability of a conventional helicopter with the capability of achieving speeds of 250 knots in cruise flight. It encompasses both the desired speed and range without compromising the inherent handling qualities of the existing fleet, and is designed to specifically address the FVL-M[edium] utility/assault mission."

By Chris Gehler Bell Helicopter, Director, Global Business Development Technology advancements enable "Force 2025" as envisioned in the Army Operating Concept and in what DoD officials have begun calling Air Land Battle 2.0. U.S. ground forces require significant capability increases in survivable speed and range to operate against and strike adversary systems much deeper than existing platforms. That is the vision for Future Vertical Lift. The JMR/FVL Bell V-280 Valor advanced technology tiltrotor provides DoD with unmatched speed, range and payload for expeditionary maneuver to win these future conflicts.

Advanced tiltrotor speed and range provides commanders access. With more than twice the speed and more than three to five times the range of current helicopter platforms, the Bell V-280 provides access to get to the objective while providing superior low-speed agility at the objective. Reduced force structure also means that units must be significantly more capable and responsive. Efficient speed and reduced reaction time provide the ability to physically and cognitively outmaneuver our adversaries. FVL tiltrotor technology is a combat multiplier providing asymmetrical advantage to maintain the initiative throughout the fight. Its speed, range and payload significantly reduce logistical, security and medical footprints, freeing combat power. The advanced design also reduces lifecycle costs and manpower requirements with greater component life, smart vehicle health monitoring, ease of component replacement and greater vehicle availability.

The V-280 design supports ground maneuver and is purpose built for the squad plus enablers. Safe and survivable, the design features integrated cabin armor, fly-by-wire component redundancy, state-of the-art countermeasures and performance to operate out of small arms range. Team Valor’s mission equipment package enables enroute situational understanding through digitally fused reconnaissance, surveillance, intelligence and friendly force information. Airborne battle boards bring fused data and mission updates to the cabin for real-time tracking. Next-gen situational awareness provides integrated degraded visual environment (DVE), threat sensors and countermeasures. Overwhelming lethal combat power is available in a common utility and attack platform option, with the payload, firepower, and endurance to support ground forces throughout the fight. Smart, fast, lethal and precise are the success factors required for our maneuver forces. The V-280 air combat vehicle technology provides warfighters strategic options, operational reach, and tactical agility and overmatch at the point of decision.