This is the second of a two part series to explain the US Army’s ‘Big Six’ programmes to future proof it over the coming decades. Part 1 is available here.
In the Department of Defense (DoD) Budget Overview for Financial Tear 2022 (FY-22) published in May 2021, it was revealed that the Army has cancelled the funding of at least 105 procurement programmes, in addition to reducing the funding for a further 169 programmes. This was to allow $23.9 billion to be invested in the Army’s modernisation priorities, particularly in its ‘Big Six’ requirements in Long Range Precision Fires, Next Generation Combat Vehicle, Future Vertical Lift, Network, Air and Missile Defense, and Soldier Lethality. Some of these were covered in the previous issue.
Future Vertical Lift
A key programme in the US Army’s Big Six modernisation plans is the dramatically improve its rotorcraft aviation capability through the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) programme. Originally seen as a new family of aircraft – Joint Multi Role – including heavy and ultra-heavy lift, for the last few years the overwhelming focus has been on the two medium type helicopter replacements: the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) which will replace the Army’s fleet of Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks; and the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) which will replace the AH-64 Apache attack helicopters as well as providing a new reconnaissance rotorcraft which the Army has lacked since the demise of the Bell OH-58 Kiowa Warrior in 2015. There are two aircraft under development in both FLRAA and FARA programmes.
The objective of FVL is to deliver rotorcraft that break the traditional limitations of existing rotorcraft by delivering greater maneuverability, longer range, increase speed, better payload, survivability, reduced maintenance through better reliability and the ability to be upgraded more easily by moving away from the use of proprietary systems. One of the most important factors in the development of these new rotorcraft a drive to future proof the aircraft through the adoption of a Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA). This should provide in the future for quicker and more flexible platform updates that can take advantage of industry developments, not just those made by the OEM.
The FLRAA competition sees Bell’s V-280 Valor tiltrotor line up against the joint Sikorsky-Boeing SB>1 Defiant twin coaxial compound helicopter. Bell’s V-280 is in line with the company’s ongoing focus on tiltrotor aircraft, including the in development V-247 Vigilant Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). The V-280 will have a speed of around 280 knots (518 kilometres per hour) and a combat range of between 500-800 nautical miles depending on mission. The SB>1 Defiant incorporates a pusher propeller which will give it a speed of over 250kts (463km/h) and will need to exceed the US Army and Navy’s minimum range requirements.
For the FARA competition, Sikorsky’s S-97 Raider flying prototype will contest with Bell’s 360 Invictus.
Over 2,000 new FVL rotorcraft will eventually be required with deliveries due to begin between 2030-35 and likely continue for a couple of decades after that. Due to the numbers of new rotorcraft that can financed in any single year it is expected that deliveries will continue for at lease a couple of decades with Block upgrades providing OEMs with ongoing work well into the second half of the century. Because of this, it is likely that some Black Hawks and Apaches will still be flying into the 2060s (if the venerable Huey can do it, why not the modern designs?).
On May 28 May, Army Major General Paul Chamberlain, director of Army budget for the assistant secretary of the Army for financial management and comptroller stated that the Army’s FY22 budget request had “decreased by over $1.2 billion. Our request is consistent with the Army aviation modernisation strategy. We’re adjusting production rate for the Blackhawk and for the Apache helicopters in order to continue to continue the development of the future vertical lift aircraft.”
In terms of timelines, earlier this year Brigadier General Walter Rugen, director, Future Vertical Lift Cross Functional Team at the US Army Futures Command said that a contract award for FLRAA was expected during the fourth quarter of 2022 with a Milestone B in the fourth quarter of 2023. This would be followed by a Milestone C decision around late 2027 or 2028 with the first unit equipped to be fielded in 2030. FARA is said to be on a similar track with Milestone B in 2024 and a target of first unit equipped in 2030.
The Army has a goal of modernising and unifying its network in field-deployable Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence (C3I) so that it can overcome current weaknesses in order to be able to deliver multi-domain operations through network capability sets.
The roll-out of networks to increase capability while incorporating industry developments will be delivered by fielding Capability Sets (CS) in two year increments. Each CS will build off the advances made during the previous round, as well as incorporating the results and lessons learned from Soldier Touchpoints, Project Convergence, Science and Technology (S&T) programmes as well as trials and demonstrations of capability. The resulting CS need to be standardised (using off-the shelf software where it can) as well as cybersecure.
The Army has outlined a path that will deliver the network by 2028, and has identified four capability sets in Fiscal Years 2021, 2023, 2025, and 2027 for the insertion of technologies, although it is planned that technology insertion will still regularly continue after this date.
There are four areas of network modernisation, known as lines of effort (LOEs): (1) creating a unified network transport layer; (2) building a common operating environment (COE) for mission command applications; (3) improving Joint Force and Coalition interoperability and (4) improving command posts’ mobility and survivability.
LOE 1: Unified Network Transport
WHAT: Establish available, reliable and resilient network that ensures seamless connectivity in any operationally contested environment.
WHY: The Army must be able to communicate through an assured network and operate in contested and congested environments.
WILL IMPROVE: Integrated Tactical Network; Tactical Radios; ESB-Enhanced; Tactical Network Transport; Signal ModerniSation/SATCOM
LOE 2: Common Operating Environment (COE)
WHAT: Provide a simple, intuitive, single common operating picture through a single mission command suite operated and maintained by Soldiers.
WHY: Commanders must be able to make decisions quickly while commanding distributed forces, utilising rapid decision making skills.
WILL IMPROVE: Handheld; MounteD; Command Post
LOE 3: Joint Interoperability/Coalition Accessible
WHAT: Ensure Army Forces can more effectively interact (technically and operationally) with Joint and Coalition partners.
WHY: The US Army does not fight alone–the Army needs to achieve and sustain a level of interoperability within the Army, Joint and Unified Action Partners to enable Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2).
WILL IMPROVE: Mission Partner Environment
LOE 4: Command Post (CP) Mobility/ Survivability
WHAT: Enable commanders to lead and fight in their formations from anywhere they choose. Ensure command post deployability, reliability, mobility and survivability.
WHY: Command Posts must be mobile and survivable to meet today’s operational needs – fast, agile, lethal.
WILL IMPROVE: Command Post Integrated Infrastructure (CPI2).
by Andrew Drwiega