Washington: Textron’s Bell has won the US Army’s competition to build the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA), the service’s largest helicopter procurement decision in 40 years.
The deal for the next-generation helicopter is worth up to $1.3 billion and is set to replace roughly 2,000 Black Hawk utility helicopters. FLRAA will not serve as a one-for-one replacement for existing aircraft, but it will take over the roles of the Black Hawk, long the workhorse of the Army for getting troops to and around the battlefield around 2030.
Ultimately, the Army’s Future Vertical Lift pursuits will also replace around 1,200 Apache attack helicopters among other legacy aircraft through the pursuit of FLRAA, the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft and Air-Launched Effects working in advanced teaming formations.
The service wants FLRAA to be capable of traveling roughly 2,440 nautical miles (or 2,810 miles) without refuelling, but also to be agile enough to manouevre troops into dangerous hot spots.
The engineering and manufacturing development and low-rate production phase could be worth roughly $7 billion. If the “full complement” of aircraft are purchased across the entire life of the fleet, the program could be worth in the range of $70 billion to include potential foreign military sales, the Army’s program executive officer for aviation, Maj Gen Rob Barrie, said during a media roundtable.
The contract represents a milestone for the service as the Army hasn’t procured two major helicopters since the 1980s and multiple efforts to buy other helicopters over the last several decades ended in failure. For instance, the service cancelled the Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche helicopter program in 2004 after spending roughly $7 billion on its development.
The FLRAA competition pitted two aircraft head to head: Bell’s V-280 Valor, a tiltrotor aircraft, and Sikorsky and Boeing’s Defiant X, which features coaxial rotor blades. Both aircraft were designed to fit into the same footprint as a Black Hawk.
“This is our largest and most complex competitive procurement we have executed in the Army in the … history of Army aviation,” Barrie told media earlier this year. “That system is going to be with us a long time; it goes without saying that we want to make sure everything is done correctly and in a disciplined manner.”
In a December 5 statement, Scott Donnelly, Textron’s chief executive, said the company is “honoured that the US Army has selected the Bell V-280 Valor as its next-generation assault aircraft. We intend to honor that trust by building a truly remarkable and transformational weapon system to meet the Army’s mission requirements.”
In a statement sent out after the Army announced the award to Bell, Sikorsky and Boeing said they “remain confident DEFIANT X is the transformational aircraft the US Army requires to accomplish its complex missions today and well into the future. We will evaluate our next steps after reviewing feedback from the Army.”
Both FLRAA demonstrator aircraft spent several years logging test flights. They first flew in what the Army called a Joint Multi-Role, or JMR, technology demonstration, followed by two phases of a competitive development and risk-reduction effort.
While Valor’s first flight was right on schedule in December 2017, Sikorsky and Boeing ran into several issues leading up to their expected first flight, delaying it by more than a year.