Army Downselects Bell, Sikorsky for Armed Scout Helicopter Program (UPDATED)
The Army has picked Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. to move on in the competition for the future attack reconnaissance aircraft, according to a March 25 news release.
The initiative is divided into three phases, which include preliminary design; detailed design, build and test; and prototype completion assessment and evaluation for entrance into the production phase. Competitors are slated to compete in a fiscal year 2023 fly off.
Last year, the Army awarded other transaction authority agreements for prototypes to five companies for phase one. The companies were Boeing, Bell, Sikorsky, Karem Aircraft and an AVX Aircraft Co.-L3Harris Technologies team. Following the award, Karem announced that it was working with Northrop Grumman and Raytheon Corp. and Bell said it was working alongside Collins Aerospace Systems.
The other transaction authority agreements included work up to the first flight test, said Dan Bailey, FARA competitive prototype program manager at the Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center, meaning that the service is not awarding new agreements for each phase. The Army will conduct a final design review around December.
“Our resources today allow us to carry two [companies] forward,” he said during a March 26 call with reporters. “We notified industry yesterday — we notified two of them that we would continue to fund them into phase two and we notified three that we would stop funding them.”
The service plans to purchase several hundred helicopters, but will evaluate its force structure needs later down the line, he noted.
The risk of a protest expanding the program’s timeline is low, he predicted.
The flexibility with other transaction authority agreements for prototyping is that there "really is no authority to protest, per se," with the Government Accountability Office, he said. “Obviously there is legal recourse potentially through the course, but again, our legal team has advised us that ... the risk is low with that.”
FARA is the Army's No. 1 aviation modernization priority and is integral to effectively penetrate and disintegrate adversaries' integrated air-defense systems, said Bruce Jette, the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, said in the release. "It will enable combatant commanders with greater tactical, operational and strategic capabilities through significantly increased speed, range, endurance, survivability and lethality."
The Army has sought a replacement for its aging OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopters since the Comanche program was canceled in 2004. FARA is part of the service’s future vertical lift effort to divest the Army’s aging helicopter fleet with modernized platforms. The service wants its next scout aircraft to have a cruise speed of at least 180 knots at 4,000 feet in 95-degree temperatures.
Bell is offering a design revealed in October dubbed the 360 Invictus, which leverages technologies from its 525 Relentless program and has a combat radius of 125 nautical miles.
“The Bell 360 Invictus will help the Army achieve and sustain overmatch against competitors with its new attack and reconnaissance capabilities,” Keith Flail, vice president of advanced vertical lift systems at Bell, said in a company news release.
Sikorsky is pushing a design similar to its S-97 Raider aircraft, which is based on the company’s X2 technology.
“This approach is driving down risk and will result in an aircraft solution that is capable of executing the Army’s joint all-domain operations,” Andy Adams, vice president of Sikorsky future vertical lift, said in a release. “Through our mature S-97 RAIDER technology demonstrator, we continue to optimize our FARA solution, which will provide the Army with an integrated weapon system that combines speed, range, maneuverability, survivability and operational flexibility.”
Correction: This story has been updated to correctly identify features of Bell's offering for the FARA program and to include comments from Army officials.
Update: This story has been updated to include quotes from an Army official.