Army Narrows Playing Field for Joint-Multi Role Helicopter, But Few Public Details Announced
The Army has made a decision on which two joint multi-role competitors will move forward to flight tests in 2017, but it’s not ready to make an announcement just yet.
“Further coordination” with the four competitors involved in the program — Bell Helicopter, AVX Aircraft, Karem Aircraft and a Sikorsky-Boeing team — is needed before naming which companies will receive funding for demonstrations, the Army’s news release stated.
Once that coordination is complete, the Army will announce its path forward later this month or September during a panel discussion featuring members of government and industry.
Under the technical investment agreements between the Army and the companies, both groups must concur on the path forward, said Dan Bailey, the service’s joint multi-role program manager.
“What that means is that if we on the government side and/or the contractors' side were to determine that there need to be changes made in any part of the agreement, there’s a discussion that has to occur between both parties,” he told National Defense.
The joint multi-role demonstration program is a technology development effort that the Army intends to feed into a future vertical lift program of record. The FVL competition is planned to result in a new generation of rotorcraft that will replace current fleets. Four variants — light, medium, heavy and ultra — could be fielded, with the medium-lift version scheduled for introduction in the mid-2030s.
The four JMR competitors can be divided across the lines of company size and aircraft design. Relative unknowns Karem and AVX are facing industry heavyweights Bell Helicopter and Boeing-Sikorsky. All companies have publicly presented initial designs, with Bell and Karem proposing tiltrotor aircraft while Boeing-Sikorsky and AVX offering compound helicopters with coaxial rotors.
The Army has always known that it could not afford to fund all four JMR competitors for flight tests, Bailey said. The companies in the past year have briefed the service on their best technical and programmatic solutions, and the Army has settled on what it believes is the best investment.
Competitors “can certainly offer different arrangements and agreements, but it’s going to have to be within the context of what our decision in terms, of best investment for the Army is,” he said.
“If somebody comes up with something new and different that wasn’t presented to us already, that would probably change the paradigm, but we would not back up from this point and reshape the decision,” he added.
Bailey would not specify whether all competitors would continue to have a role in the program.
“I certainly hope that the ones that do not go to flight test are able to continue to pursue and push their technology,” he said. “But honestly that’s part of the discussions that have to take place.”
If selected to move on, competitors will finalize designs and participate in a critical design review in 2015.
The Army’s hope is that the FVL program will yield speedier rotorcraft that can operate in extreme environmental conditions. Aircraft will likely be required to carry 12 fully equipped troops at cruise speeds of 230 knots while being able to reach altitudes of 6,000 feet in 95-degree Fahrenheit weather.
Last month, executives from the competing companies briefed reporters on their designs and stressed the importance of the joint multi-role and future vertical lift programs to the industrial base. The military has not funded development of new rotorcraft since the V-22 Osprey in the 1980s.
All of the competitors are investing more money into their designs than the Army requires, they said.