Next Generation Rotorcraft Capability
The Next Generation Rotorcraft Capability initiative creates a multinational framework under which its participants can combine efforts to work on design, development and delivery of a medium multi-role helicopter. A significant amount of the medium multi-role assets currently in service by Allies will reach the end of their life cycle in the 2035-40 period and beyond, with the subsequent need for replacements. These existing inventories are all based on designs dating back to the previous century. The aim of the NGRC initiative is to respond to this upcoming requirement, in a timely and cost-effective manner while concurrently leveraging a broad range of recent advances in technology, production methods, as well as operational concepts.
NATO differentiates between three different classes of vertical lift – or generally known as helicopter – capabilities: light, medium and heavy. The difference lies in the payload that can be carried. The NGRC concept phase will focus initially on medium multi-role capabilities, taking into account the speed of the technological evolution and participants’ future requirements.
Vertical multi-role capabilities play a crucial role in the force structure of NATO Allies. Within this context, medium multi-role helicopters offer a large degree of versatility. Their operational use incorporates a wide range of missions including tactical operations such as insertion and extraction of Special Operation Forces (see also: MSAP initiative), transport of small and medium sized cargo and troops into, out of, and within operational theaters, medical evacuation, search and rescue, and anti-submarine warfare. Their size allows them to take-off and land in topographically restricted areas such as forest glades or mountain ranges, adding to their operational flexibility. By fielding a shared helicopter design, the NGRC initiative aims to increase interoperability amongst participating Allies
In 2013 the NATO Science & Technology Organization (STO) initiated a working group managed under the Applied Vehicle Technology (AVT) Panel to:
- Identify the roles and requirements for the next generation of military rotorcraft.
- Investigate the relevant technologies applicable to future rotorcraft and to assess their maturity and potential significance.
- Provide direction for future NATO activities relating to future rotorcraft technologies.
A NATO Specialists Meeting (workshop), AVT-245: Future Rotorcraft Requirements, was held in Prague to debate the issues. During a NATO Science & Technology Organization Applied Vehicle Technology [AVT] Panel Specialist meeting in Prague, Czech Republic in October 2015, members met to identify common capabilities needs with a harmonized approach to defining requirements and certification. The group concluded there was a need for a NATO-wide activity to develop a strategy for future rotorcraft in NATO. The AVT-215 Workshop aimed to bring together “technologists” who share recent developments in innovative control effector technology with ‘vehicle platform integrators’ who traditionally focus on the integration of technologies required for the platform to perform it’s intended mission under real world constraints. Technology and integration gaps were identified and discussed allowing for an informed decision on potential future Applied Vehicle Technology technical activities to be made. A key area for discussion was the greater integration problem associated with the implementation of novel control effector technologies. This involved considering the real-life trade-offs associated with implementing a novel control effector on a platform.
The TOE will meet consistently from 2016 until 2018. The supporting NIAG Study Group runs May 2017 through June 2018 and will seek the collective industry views on the following topics: Force Capability, Force Structure, Technologies, Operational Concepts and Development & Acquisition Strategies. The scope of this NIAG study is to focus on the technologies that increase flight performance and mission effectiveness through platform propulsion, rotor design, lift, range, velocity, all weather operations, maintainability, availability and reliability. Other areas of interest are the force structure required to operate and maintain the next generation rotorcraft, as well as the identification of system integration anticipated and recommended methods to reduce complexity and risk.
The initial meeting of the Next Generation Rotorcraft Capability Team of Experts (NGRC ToE) was conducted at the Joint Air Power Competence Centre (JAPCC) in Kalkar, Germany on 13 and 14 July 2016. Representatives from Allied Command Transformation-Staff Element Europe (ACT-SEE), NATO Science and Technology Organization (STO), the NATO Industrial Advisory Group (NIAG), the Joint Air Power Competence Centre, IABG of Germany, the German Army, the UK Army and the US Army were represented.
The NGRC TOE is to identify and assess current and evolving applicable rotorcraft technologies, force structure implications, force capabilities, as well as operational concepts leading to the development of an integrated NGRC. This group of experts will conduct an integrated two-year programme of work approved by the NATO Joint Capability Group on Vertical Lift (JCG VL) to identify, analyse, assess and document advanced rotorcraft technologies, force operational concepts, force development programmes, force structure implications and legacy system integration and interoperability.
In mid-2018 Colonel (GS) Wim Schoepen, who joined the Joint Air Power Competence Centre [JAPCC] in 2016 as a Subject Matter Expert on Helicopter Operations, argued that " The light manned transport rotorcraft should be able to lift at least six fully equipped soldiers or 1,200 kg of cargo at full operational range. The medium manned transport rotorcraft should be able to lift at least 15 fully equipped soldiers or 3,000 kg of internal cargo at full operational range or 4,500 kg of total cargo, a part of which externally, at reduced operational range. The heavy manned transport rotorcraft finally, should be able to lift at least 45 fully equipped soldiers or 9,000 kg of cargo at full operational range, or 12,000 kg of total cargo, a part of which externally, at reduced operational range. Specialized transport rotorcraft for MEDEVAC, Personnel Recovery, and Special Forces operations will more than likely be based on the medium or even heavy variant where the excess of internal space and cargo load capacity can cater for additional equipment, weapon systems, and fuel without deteriorating performance."
Morris said the NGRC will look to key technology pilots such as flight control and performance, avionics and mission equipment, regrouping and lethality when developing new rotorcraft. “We are looking to advance industries, fly by wire technology, active control avionics and mission equipment, and consistent modular architectures,” Morris said. “The pioneering work that [Future Vertical Lift] FVL does, we watch with keen interest. We see this as the way forward. ”
Following preliminary discussions about future requirements, Defence Ministers from France, Germany, Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom decided to launch the multinational NGRC initiative, through signature of a Letter of Intent in the margins of the October 2020 Defence Ministerial Meeting. Following this agreement, the five Allies will start working on defining a robust Statement of Requirements for informing an envisioned concept phase and a multi-phase cooperation plan for defining, developing and fielding of the NGRC capability.
France, Germany, Greece, Italy and the UK signed a letter of intent for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Next Generation Rotorcraft Capability Project (NGRC) on 19 November 2020. The five countries will use the NGRC project to replace aging helicopters that are expected to complete their lifecycle between 2035-2040.
“Medium-lift helicopters are a crucial part of Allied inventories and a key factor for rapid deployment and transfer in and out of theaters,” NATO Assistant Secretary General Mircea Geoana said during the signing. “Many platforms currently in service are reaching the end of their lifecycle and will begin to phase out over the next 15 to 20 years. The aim of this initiative is to enable participating allies to develop and commission the next generation of medium-lift helicopters to ensure a smooth transition between the two generations.”
Experts from the five countries will prepare a statement of requirements over the next few years, the statement said. In October, Morris said if a letter of intent was signed at the end of 2020, an industry day would take place in 2021. “By investing our resources and channeling our development initiative through a multinational framework, we are ensuring that allies are equipped with the best capabilities available, which helps to maintain NATO’s technological advantage,” said Geoana.
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