The Army has canceled development of the Future Attack and Reconnaissance Aircraft, or FARA, marking the end of the service’s latest program meant to replace the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior, which was retired in 2020.
“In reviewing the FARA program in light of new technological developments, battlefield developments and current budget projections, Army leaders assessed that the increased capabilities it offered could be more affordably and effectively achieved by relying on a mix of enduring, unmanned, and space-based assets,” an Army news release says.
One lesson that the Army has learned from the war in Ukraine is that aerial reconnaissance has “fundamentally changed,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Randy George said in the news release.
“Sensors and weapons mounted on a variety of unmanned systems and in space are more ubiquitous, further reaching, and more inexpensive than ever before,” George said. “I am confident the Army can deliver for the Joint Force, both in the priority theater and around the globe, by accelerating innovation, procurement and fielding of modern unmanned aircraft systems, including the Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System, Launched Effects, and commercial small unmanned aircraft systems.”
Subscribe to Task & Purpose today. Get the latest military news and culture in your inbox daily.
The Army also needed to shift funding for aviation programs so that it could keep the production lines for CH-47 Chinooks and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, the news release says.
The FARA’s development will officially end this fiscal year. Two companies had been selected to build prototypes for the aircraft: Sikorsky, owned by Lockheed Martin; and Bell.
Sikorsky has issued a statement saying the company is disappointed with the Army’s decision to cancel the FARA, and it was waiting for more information from the service about why it ended the program.
“To provide the U.S. military and its allies a decisive advantage to deter conflict now and in the future, there must be a transformational improvement in rotorcraft systems capabilities – and a strong engineering workforce that can strengthen the nation’s leading edge in rotorcraft innovation,” the company statement says. “With a $1 billion investment, X2 aircraft offer speed, range and agility that no other helicopter in the world can match. We remain confident in X2 aircraft for U.S. and international mission needs now and in the future.”
Bell also issued a statement saying it too was disappointed with the service’s decision to end the FARA program, and the company remains confident in its prototype for the aircraft, which is ready for testing.
“We will apply the knowledge and demonstrated successes of our FARA development efforts on future aircraft,” the Bell statement says. “Bell will continue to work closely with the Army on executing the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program and their future vertical lift needs.”
By the time the FARA was canceled, the Army had spent about $2 billion on the program and requested another $5 billion over the next five years, Defense News reported.
Ultimately, the FARA was doomed because the prototypes were meant to be much more capable than current helicopters, involving a high level of cost and risk, said Richard Aboulafia, managing director of AeroDynamic Advisory, a consulting firm for the aerospace industry.
“They conflated requirements with technology development in the worst possible way,” Aboulafia told Task & Purpose. “It’s one thing to say, ‘We’d like to develop a new way of flying vertically.’ It’s another thing to say, ‘We need to solve our reconnaissance problems in a budget-minded way.’ Now, if you confuse the two, you get something that is going to die.”
The Army has abandoned three other attempts to replace the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior over the past 20 years: The RAH-66 Comanche and the ARH-70 Arapaho, and the Armed Aerial Scout. In the case of the Comanche, the Army spent $9 billion and ultimately got just two prototypes, according to Defense News.
So far, the Army’s most notable modernization successes have been new generations of existing aircraft, such as Chinooks, Blackhawks, and Apaches, Aboulafia said.
“Somehow, the design gods of the 60s and 70s got it right,” Aboulafia said. “We’ve been reinventing their work ever since with great success.”
A major obstacle in the Army’s efforts to develop a new armed scout helicopter has been the tradeoff between building an aircraft that is far more capable than anything else flying, and how much those new technologies cost, said retired Marine Col. Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“If you really want to make a jump in military capabilities into new kinds of technologies, sort of post helicopter, it gets very, very expensive,” Cancian told Task & Purpose. “If you just want to do an Apache upgraded, another attack helicopter, then it’s still expensive but you’re not getting that bump in capability to move this program to the front of the line.”
Cancian said he was not surprised that the FARA was canceled because it was competing with other Army modernization programs, including the Precision Strike Missile, which is meant to eventually replace the Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS.
The Army is facing funding constraints that are forcing the service to make tough choices, such as possible force structure reductions, he said.
In lieu of the FARA, the Army is likely to upgrade the AH-64E Apache attack helicopter and find new ways to pair the aircraft with drones to conduct reconnaissance missions, Cancian said.
“The Army likes to think about attack helicopters and armed scout helicopters; the Marine Corps doesn’t make that distinction,” Cancian said. “That’s an Army distinction. The Marine Corps has always had a single attack helicopter that both finds targets and shoots them.”
The latest on Task & Purpose
- Fired Navy Captain created ‘toxic’ climate, grabbed and struck crew on duty
- What’s the difference between Army Rangers and Green Berets?
- When a veteran lost his farm, fellow paratroopers came to the rescue
- Sergeant, it’s cold outside! How the Army is revising its wind chill rules
- Everything you need to know about Ranger School