Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft

In March, the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) held its 2018 Global Force Symposium (GFS) in Huntsville, Alabama, and convened a panel of US Army Aviation leaders and industry experts for a discussion on FVL, including Rugen, Program Executive Officer for Aviation Brig. Gen. Thomas Todd and the Vice Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville. (See www.vtol.org/CFT for a video and transcription of the comments during the 100-minute panel.) 

As part of the panel, Rugen outlined the 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): optionally manned, highly autonomous survivable clean-sheet aircraft that meets the Army missions for FVL Capability Set 1 (see www.vtol.org/FVL)
  • 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)
  • Open Systems: an architecture that is both open and resilient, government-designed and defined specifications that industry can plug applications into that will shorten the typical five-to-seven-year upgrade

On June 22, the Army published a draft program solicitation for the “Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft Competitive Prototype (FARA CP).” The FARA CP final solicitation, published Oct. 3, 2018, provides this Background section:

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. Critical to this envisioned platform is a resilient digital backbone designed to allow rapid capability advancement in subsystems and software and affordable life cycle management. This purpose built aircraft will be fielded at echelons above division but other variants could be fielded across all aviation formations.

In FY19, the Army plans to make four to six initial awards based on proposed conceptual designs and approaches, with nine months to develop preliminary designs prior to a down-selection after an Initial Design and Risk Review (ID&RR). Two concepts will proceed to Final Design & Risk Review (FD&RR) and the detailed design, build, and test phase, with first prototype flight projected for the end of calendar year 2022. After 9–12 months of flight testing, the effort would transition to an acquisition “program of record” in fiscal 2024. Importantly, the Army wants the CS1 FARA to reach initial operational capability (IOC) in 2028, prior to the CS3 IOC of 2030, in order to be able to fit within the service’s total budget.

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

Although performance requirements were not made public, industry discussions have indicated that the maximum cruise speed could be as low as 180 kt (330 kt), which could make a convention helicopter competitive. Obviously, the speed, range, payload and other factors will determine how challenging the requirement will be, but the Army’s posturing in the solicitation (and its plans to execute the program within 10 years to IOC) indicate that no significant technology development will be required: the Army is asking to engineer a solution rather than develop technologies. 


 Posted 2018-07-16; Update 2018-11-01