The Army just took a big step toward finally replacing the UH-60 Black Hawk as its long-range assault aircraft of choice.
The service has selected Bell Helicopter's V-280 Valor and Boeing and Sikorsky's SB>1 Defiant to move forward as part of the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft’s (FLRAA) Competitive Demonstration and Risk Reduction Program (CD&RR) program.
The FLRAA program, formally initiated in 2019, is intended to field a new long-range attack help for the service by fiscal year 2030 as a potential replacement for both the Black Hawk and, potentially, the service's AH-64 Apaches.
This specific CD&RR effort, which will eventually feed into the formal FLRAA program, was funded to the tune of $76 million in fiscal year 2020 to "drive down risk and speed up delivery" of potential prototypes, as Defense News reported at the time.
The OTA contracts with Bell and Boeing/Sikorsky, which are usually meant to facilitate rapid prototyping, consist of "risk reduction activities that combine government research with input from industry partners" to eventually inform the development and procurement of a future FLRAA weapons system, according to a statement from PEO Aviation.
“These agreements are an important milestone for FLRAA,” Army aviation program executive officer Patrick Mason said in a statement on Monday. “The CD&RR continues to transition technologies from the JMR-TD effort to the FLRAA weapons system design."
"We will be conducting analysis to refine the requirements, conceptual designs, and acquisition approach," Mason added. "Ultimately, this information and industry feedback are vital to understanding the performance, cost, affordability, schedule risks and trades needed to successfully execute the FLRAA program.”
Both the V-280 Valor and the SB>1 Defiant came out of the Army's Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration (JMR TD) program that's part of the Department of Defense’s broad Future Vertical Lift effort.
The V-280 Valor tilt-rotor aircraft has been conducting flights for more than two years. According to Popular Mechanics, the Valor is capable of hauling 23% more troops and 25% more cargo at more than 300 knots, flying twice as fast and operating at twice the range than the versatile Black Hawk.
“This is an important milestone in the history of Bell and Army aviation. We are honored to be part of it,” Bell vice president for advanced vertical lift systems Keith Flail said in a statement. “The next phase is an opportunity for this team to build on the success of the last six years and continue to bring the proof that we can provide transformative capabilities to our Army in line with their stated goal of 2030.”
The SB>1 Defiant only took its first flight in March 2019, primarily due to issues in manufacturing challenges regarding its rotor blades, as Defense News reported at the time. With an unusual coaxial twin-blade system, the helo boasts a purported cruising speed of 240 knots and is designed meant to maintain altitude and stability even under “hot-and-high” conditions.
Defiant "is highly maneuverable and will extend the warfighter’s capabilities on the modern battlefield – and fits in the same footprint as a Black Hawk," Bell and Sikorsky said in a statement, noting that the aircraft performed a high-profile flight demonstration for Army leaders in late February.
"When Defiant flies, it's the result of so many hours of work to get there," Sikorsky president Dan Schultz said in a statement. "We don't get surprised in flight test.”
According to Defense News, the CDRR will consist of two phases lasting one year apiece, during which military planners will assess "a laundry list of technologies" for potential integration into a future FLRAA.
“In the CDRR [competitive demonstration and risk reduction], we’re really trying to develop a weapons system, not the tech demonstrator,” Brig. Gen. Wally Rugen told Defense News. “So we’re trying to take it to the next level.”