Commentary: What FVL Needs to Succeed

What FVL Needs to Succeed

Industry has committed $1B so far in Future Vertical Lift and is preparing to invest another $500M.
The Army must remain unwavering in its commitments as well.

By Mike Hirschberg, Executive Director
AHS — The Vertical Flight Society

The US Army released its solicitation on Oct. 3 for a next-generation vertical lift Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) to fly in 2022 and begin fielding in 2028. This is an extremely aggressive timeline for the capabilities envisioned, but the industry can achieve it if the Army customer provides a clear, concise and stable set of objectives and constraints, unambiguously identifies its risk tolerance, and is sincerely willing to make compromises. The rotorcraft industrial base is willing to invest the resources necessary if the Army honors its commitments to FARA and the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA). 


At the behest of AHS/VFS and industry, Congress directed the US Department of Defense in 2008 to initiate Future Vertical Lift (FVL), a comprehensive strategy for refreshing the military’s entire rotary-wing fleet with advanced vertical lift aircraft, from lightweight scout/attack and medium utility to heavy lift rotorcraft.

The Army soon reprogrammed its science and technology resources to support a Joint Multi-Role (JMR) Technology Demonstration, with initial contracts awarded in 2011. After nearly 30 years of upgrades, remanufacturing and incremental improvements, industry proved its commitment to FVL, overmatching the government’s funding by 4:1 — for a total JMR investment of more than $1B. Bell and Sikorsky-Boeing are now testing 30,000 lb (13.6 t)-class high-speed demonstrators, vindicating the premise at the outset of JMR that the US industrial base had the technology, commitment and innovative capabilities to engender a new generation of advanced rotorcraft. 

The Army’s proposed acquisition program for this class is FLRAA, part of the overall Joint Service FVL Capability Set 3 (see “FVL: 1, 2, 3,” pg. 20). A decade after FVL was initiated, industry eagerly awaits the request for proposals for the next phase of FLRAA — to develop an operational rotorcraft and deliver it to the warfighter in the 2030-timeframe.


With the recent proliferation of highly-capable long-range advanced integrated air defense systems (IADS) around the world, the Army has an urgent need for next-generation survivable rotorcraft to breech these systems in future conflicts. The Army plans for the all-new FARA to be fielded in less than 10 years — inside the development cycle of the FLRAA. 

Industry is “all-in” (see “Commentary: All In for FVL,” Vertiflite, Sept/Oct 2018) to make this happen, but the devil will be in the details, and the success of the program hinges on how the Army proceeds. After multiple attempts to field a scout/attack aircraft over the past three decades, delivering operational FARA and FLRAA aircraft is critical for industry.

“Breeching the IADS” — as part of a broader ecosystem including unmanned aircraft — is the highest priority role for FARA, with the other attack/reconnaissance missions secondary. Indeed, applicability of the FARA rotorcraft to the broader spectrum of joint FVL Capability Set 1 missions will be a fall-out, with variants or derivatives needed for multi-service applications. The FARA solicitation states:

Army Aviation must operate in highly contested/complex airspace and degraded environments against peer/near peer adversaries capable of an advanced integrated air defense system. The Army currently lacks the ability to conduct armed reconnaissance, light attack, and security with improved stand-off and lethal and non-lethal capabilities with a platform sized to hide in radar clutter and for the urban canyons of mega cities. To close this gap, the Army envisions an optionally manned, next generation rotorcraft with attributes of reduced cognitive workload, increased operational tempo (OPTEMPO) through ultra-reliable designs and extended maintenance free periods, and advanced teaming and autonomous capabilities. Teamed with unmanned systems and various air launched effects, this platform will be the center piece of the integrated air defense system (IADS) breeching team to provide freedom of maneuver in a multi-domain battle. This platform is the “knife fighter” of future Army Aviation capabilities, a small form factor platform with maximized performance.

Keys to Success for FARA
For industry to be successful in meeting the Army's ambitious objectives, it needs:
• Clear objectives that provide the means to make decisions
• A willingness to compromise between cost, schedule and performance
• Stability of direction and constancy of purpose

According to the solicitation, the Army intends to make up to six contract awards in June for $15M with a downselect in fiscal 2020 to a $735M Phase 2 for two competitors; the contracting approach, an “Other Transaction Authority for Prototype (OTAP),” requires each competitor to contribute an additional one-third of the cost of the two phases, i.e. an extra $250M. First flights of the two competitive prototypes are expected in the first quarter of fiscal 2023 (late calendar year 2022), with government flight testing and the program completing in September 2023 (the end of fiscal 2023). Initial operational capability (IOC) with multiple aircraft fielded is expected by 2028. 

With FARA, the Army wants to field a new system in less time that is smaller, faster, longer range, more affordable, more capable, more lethal, more connected, more survivable and more autonomous than current systems. To solve the tension between these conflicting desires, designers need to iterate the design sensitivities with operational analysis to show the pros and cons of each attribute, alone and in concert. In order to fly competitive prototypes (not just demonstrators) four years from now, the Army must prioritize its metrics and potentially make hard trade-off decisions. 

The challenge is that the Phase 1 contract awards are planned for June 2019 and the first flight is expected by the end of calendar 2022. To meet this deadline, companies must make many major decisions in the October/November 2018 timeframe so that they can submit their proposals by Dec. 18, and then continue with their operational analysis to refine their designs significantly prior to receiving a contract. Industry has demonstrated that advanced design and manufacturing tools have made tremendous advancements in the past few years, allowing companies to shave years off of the development time of highly complex, highly integrated aircraft and their associated systems. But potential bidders must have sufficient guidance on the objective and priorities for FARA and a customer with the stomach to accept the compromises required and the staying power to see the development through. 

Total Commitment to FVL

Meeting the flight date and delivering operational FARA aircraft in 10 years — half the time of any modern clean-sheet military aircraft development program — is extremely ambitious. Nonetheless, industry is eager to work with the Army to prove that it can rise to this challenge as well, cutting through the red tape of the defense acquisition process and delivering a survivable attack/reconnaissance capability that is relevant on highly contested battlefields of the future.

The vertical flight community is looking forward to meeting the challenges of FARA and working with the Army to speed this next-generation capability to the warfighter. Ensuring the schedule for FLRAA does not slip is equally important. With investments from industry of $250–400M for each proposed aircraft for FVL — the Bell V-280 Valor, Sikorsky-Boeing SB>1 Defiant, Sikorsky S-97 Raider and two FARA competitive prototypes — industry remains committed. The Army must honor its commitments to see these programs through to fruition. 

The FARA solicitation and links to other FVL-related resources can be found at

What do you think? Let us know!

Posted 2018-10-31