ANALYSIS: Army’s Latest Attempt to Replace Scout Helicopter Abruptly Ends; Billions More Wasted
The latest chapter in the Army’s long, tortured journey toward replacing its now retired scout helicopter came to an end with billions of more of taxpayer dollars wasted on program that went nowhere.
The Army has announced Feb. 8 that it is scrapping the troubled Future Attack and Reconnaissance Aircraft program — which was developing a replacement for the Bell OH-58 Kiowa that was retired almost a decade ago — after the completion of fiscal year 2024 prototyping activities.
The first attempt to replace the Kiowa was the failed Comanche program, which spent some $9 billion on an aircraft with the Army having nothing to show for it prior to cancellation in 2004.
That was followed by the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program, which was canceled due to projected cost overruns in 2008. It too had reached protype phase.
The latest program was pitting Sikorsky’s Raider X aircraft against Bell’s 360 Invictus. The Army took delivery of the first General Electric Aerospace T901 flight test engine — which both vendors would use in their prototypes — in October, well behind schedule. Neither competitor has completed a test flight with the Improved Turbine Engine Program, or ITEP, engine.
In addition, the Army announced it is delaying the production of ITEP engine “to ensure adequate time to integrate it with AH-64 and UH-60 platforms,” the Army release stated.
“In reviewing the FARA program in light of new technological developments, battlefield developments and current budget projections, Army leaders assessed that the increased capabilities it offered could be more affordably and effectively achieved by relying on a mix of enduring, unmanned, and space-based assets,” the release stated.
This was not the first time Army leaders declared that a scout helicopter’s mission could be replaced with other assets. Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, former program executive officer for aviation, endorsed the idea of using manned-unmanned teaming with Gray Eagle drones and Apaches, shortly before his retirement in 2014.
However, instead of pursuing the idea, the Army proceeded with the doomed FARA program, which budget documents show has cost $2 billion so far.
Meanwhile, the service announced it would continue investments in the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft — which was awarded to Bell’s V-280 Valor tilt-rotor prototype — that is scheduled to field the first operational unit in fiscal year 2030 and would make new investments in the UH-60M Black Hawk and CH-47F Block II Chinook. However, it is ending production of the UH-60V Black Hawk variant.
“Without reprioritizing funds in its constrained aviation portfolio, the Army faced the unacceptable risk of decline and closure of production and sustainment lines for the Chinook and Black Hawk fleets,” the release stated. “The Army’s new plan will renew and extend production of both aircraft, while also sustaining the experienced workforce and vendor base that underpin the Army’s aviation capabilities.”
The Army further announced in the release it was phasing out operations of “systems that are not capable or survivable on today’s battlefield including the Shadow and Raven unmanned aircraft systems. The Army will increase investments in cutting-edge, effective, capable and survivable unmanned aerial reconnaissance capabilities and the procurement of commercial small unmanned systems.”
Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth in the release said: “The Army is deeply committed to our aviation portfolio and to our partners in the aviation industrial base.
“These steps enable us to work with industry to deliver critical capabilities as part of the joint force, place the Army on a sustainable strategic path, and continue the Army’s broader modernization plan which is the service’s most significant modernization effort in more than four decades.”
Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Randy George said the Army is learning from the conflict in Ukraine that aerial reconnaissance has fundamentally changed. Sensors and weapons mounted on a variety of unmanned systems and in space are more ubiquitous, further reaching, and more inexpensive than ever before.
“I am confident the Army can deliver for the Joint Force, both in the priority theater and around the globe, by accelerating innovation, procurement and fielding of modern unmanned aircraft systems, including the Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System, Launched Effects, and commercial small, unmanned aircraft systems.”
There has long been chatter inside and outside the Pentagon that FARA was on the bubble. As National Defense reported in August 2022, industry experts like Thomas Stapleton, president and founder of consulting firm Stapleton & Associates, were casting doubt on the program given budget constraints and inflation at the time.
“I think there's a lot of headwinds against it, not a lot of support,” Stapleton said. “Support in industry is definitely waning, and the Army is re-baselining the program. … I think it's in a lot of trouble.”
The budget picture has grown murkier since then. While the Army received a small boost in funding in the 2023 budget in real terms, the service, like the rest of the military, has been under a continuing resolution with no sign Congress will pass a 2024 defense budget anytime soon.
Sikorsky in a statement, expressed its disappointment.
“To provide the U.S. military and its allies a decisive advantage to deter conflict now and in the future, there must be a transformational improvement in rotorcraft systems capabilities – and a strong engineering workforce that can strengthen the nation’s leading edge in rotorcraft innovation. With a $1 billion investment, X2 aircraft offer speed, range and agility that no other helicopter in the world can match. We remain confident in X2 aircraft for U.S. and international mission needs now and in the future. We are disappointed in this decision and will await a U.S. Army debrief to better understand its choice,” the statement said.
Topics: Air Power