Commentary: "All in for FVL"

All In for FVL
The Army wants to field FVL CS1 before CS3 — without slowing down CS3. We can do this!

By Mike Hirschberg
Vertical Flight Society Executive Director

Vertiflite, July/August 2018

In October 2017, the US Army named Future Vertical Lift (FVL) as one of its top six modernization priorities, with a cross-functional team (CFT) named for each priority (see “Washington Report,” Vertiflite, Jan/Feb 2018) to reduce the “time to deliver” for the new modernized systems.
Mike Hirschberg (Vertical Flight Society: Executive Director

In a panel sponsored by the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) in March that I participated in (see, the Army outlined a vision for four lines of effort:

  • Advanced Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS): survivable future UAS in multiple aircraft sizes and types for different missions (see “Unmanned Vertical Wingman, Vertiflite, Sept/Oct 2017);

  • Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA): an optionally manned, highly autonomous, survivable clean-sheet aircraft for Army missions under FVL Capability Set 1 (see for details on FVL capability sets);

  • Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA): an assault aircraft with the speed, range, endurance and agility to perform Army missions under FVL CS3 (see “FVL Accelerates,” Vertiflite, July/August 2018, pg. 16), and;

  • Open Systems: government-designed and defined specifications for which industry can develop applications and shorten upgrade cycles.

On June 22, the Army published a draft program solicitation for its “Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft Competitive Prototype (FARA CP)” (see for more information).

The Army spent the past decade pursuing the FVL medium weight class, including the advanced Joint Multi-Role (JMR) Technology Demonstrators now flying. But following the divestment of the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior, developing a new scout/attack aircraft is also a pressing need. The Army has now committed itself to developing both FARA (CS1) and FLRAA (CS3) in parallel.

FARA is intended to be an Army-led effort to field its FVL Capability Set 1 aircraft, with other military services adapting the platform to their needs. But because of its urgent need for a scout/attack aircraft, the Army has decided to field CS1 FARA before the CS3 FLRAA. The FARA CP is intended to shave years off the acquisition timeline by transitioning directly into an engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase.

Next summer, the Army plans to make four to six initial awards based on proposed conceptual designs and approaches. Two concepts will be down-selected in mid-2020 for detailed design, build and testing, with the first prototype flight projected for late 2022; FARA would transition to an acquisition “program of record” in fiscal 2024. Importantly, the Army wants the CS1 FARA to reach initial operating capability (IOC) in 2028 — prior to the currently planned CS3 IOC of 2030 — in order to fit within the service’s total budget. Although performance requirements were not made public, the Army’s posturing in the solicitation (and its plans to execute the program within 10 years to IOC) indicated that no significant air vehicle technology development will be required; the Army is asking to engineer a solution rather than to develop technologies.

The Army briefed the plan to Congress in May — midway through the fiscal 2019 budget approval cycle — and the Senate provided an additional $75.4M for the effort. If it is signed into law, this increase will allow the Army to get started on FARA in earnest.

The past decade of development on FVL and JMR has proven that the industry is fully committed to developing next-generation rotorcraft for the needs of the US military and allies. Well over $1B has already been invested by the American helicopter industry in approaches that support CS1 and CS3. The science and technology (S&T) base of the US industry, academia and government agencies are “all in” for the FVL initiative. The Vertical Flight Society and the Vertical Lift Consortium have been jointly and successfully advocating for additional S&T investments from Congress for FVL, and the support has been extremely positive.

In the 1980s, the US Army made a monumental leadership decision — to develop five modernization programs in parallel. These “Big Five” were the Abrams main battle tank, the Bradley fighting vehicle, the Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, and the Patriot air defense missile system. The Army accomplished this through unwavering leadership and proper resourcing of the programs within the service’s total obligation authority — its entire budget. Today’s six modernization priorities echo the Big Five in their importance to the future of the US military.

By properly balancing the needs of FVL CS1 and CS2, the Army can indeed develop both aircraft in parallel. The deep costsharing needed for JMR has paid off in spades for the Army, expanding the technology base for each of the future capability sets. The rotorcraft industry has the tools, talent and dedication to develop both capability sets together if the Army has the necessary funding and resolve to see both efforts through to production.

Posted 2018-07-17