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Future Vertical Lift FVL

As disruptive technologies emerge and adversaries adopt them, the Army is going to need a family of affordable Future Vertical Lift aircraft to replace its current fleet. Future Vertical Lift is an Army-led multi-service initiative, focused on enhancing vertical lift dominance through the development of next generation capabilities. Future Vertical Lift increases reach, protection, lethality, agility and mission flexibility to successfully dominate in highly contested and complex airspace against known and emerging threats.

Prior to Future Vertical Lift, the Army conducted over 35 years of incremental improvements to its rotorcraft fleet without a revolutionary increase in capability. The Army is leading Future Vertical Lift development by maturing a next generation of capabilities. Initially, the Army and other services worked together to refine requirements for next generation reconnaissance, utility, medical evacuation and attack aircraft. The result was an Army-led Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator Program (JMR-TD). Through this program, the Army is conducting ground and flight demonstrations of advanced rotorcraft designs for a revolutionary increase in capability. JMR-TD is also developing a modular open systems approach to provide a common digital network capability and an open architecture that is portable across multiple platforms, thereby shortening integration timelines of critical new capabilities to the warfighter.

The Future Vertical Lift [FVL] is the acquisition follow-on to the Joint Multi-Role helicopter technology effort. It is not known if the FVL concept will end up producing a rotary-wing aircraft, like the Army AH-64 Apache, or a tilt-rotor aircraft like the Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey. FVL promises to deliver a variety of advanced capabilities. The hoped-for features will be the speed, lift, lethality, range, survivability and low sustainment costs to replace the already aging fleet of Black Hawk and Apache helicopters.

A heavy version could replace the Chinook. While the Black Hawk, Chinook and Apache are continually getting upgrades, they are 1960s technology airframes underneath all the bells and whistles. With FVL, it's a completely new airframe and helicopter, and the Army wants to do this right. The industry proposals for FVL include the capability to carry a payload of 12 troops and four crew, hover out of ground effect at an ambient condition of 6,000 feet and 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and self-deploy 2,100 nautical miles at a speed of at least 230 knots.

The idea behind the FVL concept is to have the same aircraft be able to perform multiple missions, the Army will need fewer types of aircraft. That means a smaller number of parts will be needed to sustain the fleet, and a shared pool of maintainers and maintenance equipment. That will result in a reduced cost for logistics. The FVL could come in different sizes, depending on the mission it will perform, but things like engine, drive train, and cockpit components would be the same, common between the two, and swappable.

FVL multi-role capabilities enabled by avionics will support a wide range of joint missions, including aerial reconnaissance, anti submarine warfare, Anti Surface Warfare, special operations, amphibious assault, undersea warfare, surface warfare, air assault, Medical evacuation, Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance, Search and Rescue, Command and Control, Combat Search and Rescue, attack, logistics, homeland security and cargo operations.

Because 75 percent of the aviation fleet is in utility and attack, the focus of the Future Vertical Lift will be to resource that combined variant in the FVL fleet. It may be a medium variant, something that is the size of maybe a Black Hawk or an Apache is today, that can do the attack mission, or the assault/lift mission. The same aircraft may be scaled smaller to do the reconnaissance mission, similar to what a Kiowa Warrior does.

The FVL concept is to create a new rotorcraft that uses new technology, materials, and designs that are quicker, have further range, better payload, are more reliable, easier to maintain and operate, have lower operating costs and can reduce logistical footprints. The Army wants to increase the range, increase the payload, operate in high/hot, and increase our airspeed. In order to execute FVL and other modernization programs, the Army must understand that the requirements have to be tradable.

In October 2011, the Deputy Secretary of Defense issued "The Future Vertical Lift Initiative: A Strategic Plan for United States Department of Defense Vertical Lift Aircraft" [the Future Vertical Lift Strategic Plan] to outline a joint approach for the next generation vertical lift aircraft for all Military Services. The Strategic Plan provided a foundation for replacing the current fleet with advanced capability by shaping the development of vertical lift aircraft for the next 25 to 40 years. The Strategic Plan indicated that 80% of decision points for the DoD vertical lift fleet to either extend the life, retire, or replace with a new solution occur in the 8-10 years prior to 2020.

On 03 October 2013 the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center announced the award of four Technology Investment Agreements under Broad Agency Announcement W911W6-12-R-0021 Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator Phase 1 to AVX Aircraft Company, Bell Helicopter Textron Inc., Karem Aircraft Inc., and Sikorsky Aircraft Company. The purpose of the JMR-TD is to demonstrate an operationally representative mix of capabilities to investigate realistic design trades and enabling technologies. Emerging results from JMR-TD Phase 1 will be used to inform the Future Vertical Lift effort regarding promising vehicle configurations, the maturity of enabling technologies, attainable performance and capabilities, and highlight the affordable technical solutions required to achieve those capabilities.

The four vendors in 2014 -- Bell Helicopter, a Boeing-Sikorsky combined effort, AVX Aircraft and Karem Aircraft -- providing capabilities and details of their designs to the JMR-FVL, a process called "initial design and risk review." That process would conclude in the summer of 2014, after which down-selection would begin. The down-select means two vendors will be eliminated while two move forward to build FVL demonstrators to be used through 2019, and at some point a vendor or combination of vendors would get the contract.

Since JMR-TD is not a pre-selection program for FVL, the decision not to fully fund one of the demonstrators could be made for a variety of reasons. The conclusion could be, for instance, that a particular design met the desired capability and was sufficiently mature and therefore, did not need further investment of the Army's Science and Technology funds.

In April 2015 the Army recently extended technology investment agreements with two commercial companies to continue concept refinement and technology maturation for future vertical lift, or FVL, research. The Army continued its ties with AVX Aircraft Company and Karem Aircraft Incorporated. "This is an opportunity to execute further technology maturation with these two partners and expand the knowledge base of the Joint Multirole [JMR] Technology Demonstrator [TD] efforts in support of FVL decision points," Dan Bailey, program director for FVL/JMR, said.

AVX will mature coaxial compound design, focusing on aerodynamic stability, high fidelity computational fluid dynamic analysis and limited wind tunnel testing scheduled for 2015-2017.

Karem Aircraft will fabricate and test subcomponent articles of its optimum-speed tiltrotor concept, which will include rotor blades and hub components such as actuators, bearings and electronics. These steps are part of a hub integration functionality test to prepare for a full-scale wing-rotor ground tie-down test in the future. Karem Aircraft and AVX join Bell Helicopter and Boeing-Sikorsky Aircraft in the continuing efforts to refine requirements and reduce risk for the FVL family of aircraft.

The JMR TD will demonstrate a mix of capabilities to investigate realistic design trades and enabling technologies. Results from the JMR TD air vehicle demo will inform the FVL effort of promising vehicle configurations, the maturity of enabling technologies, attainable performance and capabilities, and highlight the affordable technical solutions required to achieve those capabilities. The Army continued to explore the art of the possible, which includes open dialog with these and other vendors, Bailey said. "The intent of the JMR TD effort is to maximize the knowledge gain and risk reduction toward an anticipated future vertical lift acquisition program."

The Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness--technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection and sustainment--to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.

Fiscal years 2019 and 2020 are pivotal years for the FVL modernization efforts, as critical technology demonstrations provide essential evidence during the completion of the FVL analysis of alternatives, and the Army uses this data and analysis to inform its path forward. Four categories of Future Vertical Lift aircraft are in the science and technology stage of development.

  1. The future unmanned aircraft system, category 1, will actually be a family of UAS types. They will be built to operate in dangerous airspaces and in degraded environmental conditions.
  2. Advanced UAS, category 2, will be the premier targeting and electronic attack assets in a phase 3 fight, by surveilling, protecting and attacking across multiple spectrums. A "phase 3 fight" means offensive combat operations.
  3. A future reconnaissance attack aircraft, category 3, will be built, as its name suggests, to perform attack and reconnaissance missions, and to engage in electronic warfare, Rugen said. Furthermore, this category 3 aircraft will be sized to hide in the radar clutter and operate in the canyons of megacities.
  4. A future long-range assault aircraft, category 4, will be built for lift, assault and medevac.

While specific requirements have not yet been crafted, all FVL will, in general terms, be intuitive to operate and be built to outperform current aircraft in speed, low radar signature, payload, survivability, agility, and lethality, he said. And, of course, it must also be affordable. Furthermore, all FVL will need to be capable of being launched from a field environment without a runway. All categories of FVL will also be optionally manned, he emphasized. This means that even the FVLs that have a manned cockpit will be able to operate without the pilot -- they can be remotely piloted. All must be able to team with other manned and unmanned aircraft. Of great importance is that all FVLs will include modular open systems architectures, so that future component add-ons from any industry will be compatible.

Some think FVL will be in Army aviation units starting in 2030. Others think it's going to be somewhere probably in the mid- or late-30s - the 2035 to 2040 timeframe.

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