AUSA NEWS: Budget Uncertainty Threatens Long-Range Assault Aircraft's Schedule
The passage of additional continuing resolutions could delay the Army’s future long-range assault aircraft, or FLRAA, program, said the head of program executive office aviation Oct. 16.
Federal government agencies, including the Defense Department, are currently operating under a continuing resolution that runs through Nov. 21. If Congress does not pass full-year appropriations bills in the coming weeks, it will have to authorize another CR or allow a government shutdown. With Republicans and Democrats at loggerheads over border wall funding and other contentious issues, it is unclear if the budget impasse will be resolved anytime soon.
CRs are problematic for the Pentagon because they generally freeze funding at the levels of the previous fiscal year and inhibit new-start programs.
“We are tremendously dependent on a stable budget to work these things through and to have the growth in any new-start program that we require,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas Todd. “As you can imagine, FLRAA fits that category.”
The next-generation helicopter is part of the Army’s future vertical lift modernization initiative which aims to replace the service’s fleet of aging platforms with a family of new systems. An effort known as the joint multi-role technology demonstrator, or JMR-TD, is serving as a precursor to the future long-range assault aircraft.
“We expect if a budget is passed and the continuing resolution is resolved that we'll be able to move forward with the risk reduction effort in the FLRAA program and be prepared to issue what is ultimately a draft [request for proposals] for that program in FY '21, hopefully with an award soon thereafter,” Todd said during the Association of the United States Army’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.
The goal is to have traction on the program by fiscal year 2022, Todd noted. Achieving that will require a lot of work and a stable budget. It will also require JMR-TD participants Bell and a Boeing-Sikorsky team to continue with the testing of their aircraft, the V-280 Valor and Defiant, respectively.
Operating under a continuing resolution for an extended period of time would put the risk reduction work the Army has lined up for FLRAA in 2020 and 2021 in jeopardy, he added.
It “depends on how long the CR is, certainly,” he said during a media roundtable at the conference. “The work that we would do with the current ongoing JMR vendors for risk reduction in particular would be at risk.”
However, Todd noted it wouldn’t be a “day-for-day" schedule slip.
“Those companies have invested significantly today [and] I have no doubt that they'll continue to,” he said. “But we believe it's time for us to start sharing some of that [by] funding additional envelope expansion and risk reduction.”
Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Walter Rugen, director of the future vertical lift cross-functional team, noted that the Army is working to keep FLRAA and another major aviation effort known as the future attack reconnaissance aircraft, or FARA, as affordable as possible.
“A lot of folks have been talking to me about affordability and how are you going to … [develop two new platforms] at the same time?” he said.
Rugen noted that the service has approached both acquisition programs with a “very lean plan.”
The Army is using competition among industry to reduce costs associated with the FARA program, which is considered the top priority within the future vertical lift modernization portfolio, Rugen noted.
“This competition is going to be driving down cost and it's going to be generating capability on the schedule that we want because it is so competitive,” he said. “It has been nice to see the industry being all-in."
Earlier this year, the service awarded five other transaction authority prototype agreements to industry for design work. Companies working on the effort include Sikorsky, Boeing, an AVX Aircraft Co.-L3Harris Technologies team, a Karem Aircraft-Raytheon-Northrop Grumman partnership and a Bell-Collins Aerospace Systems team. Submissions from industry are due early next year. The service plans to downselect to two vendors by March 2020. Those chosen will build prototypes for an eventual flyoff.