Army Set to Award Contracts in Next Generation Helicopter Development

JMRThe U.S. Army is preparing to award demonstrator contracts to four vendors to help design and engineer the next-generation helicopter fleet slated to fly by 2030, service officials said.

The contracts will be the latest step in an ongoing multi-year program called Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator, or JMR TD.  It is an Army Science and Technology effort to explore and demonstrate the realm of the possible regarding a new generation of helicopters.

The Army plans to fly two demonstrator JMR helicopters in 2017, service officials said.

“We are looking to bring transformational vertical lift capabilities across the spectrum of operations,” said William Lewis, director of the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, Aviation Development Directorate.

While some of the requirements for the helicopter are still being determined, some early indications call for a high-speed helicopter that can travel at speeds between 170 and 300 knots. In addition, the specifications call for an air vehicle that can fly with a combat radius of 424 kilometers and hover with a full-load at what’s called high/hot conditions – 95-degrees Fahrenheit and altitudes of 6,000 feet.

“The JMR informs the realm of the potential from an S&T perspective and that marries up with the operational side. This will be a demonstrator vehicle. They are not building the objective vehicle,” an Army official said.

Army officials want a faster, more fuel-efficient helicopter that could cover a vastly larger mission area. This would increase the combat radius and also improve arrival times for rescues operations and medical evacuations.

A faster helicopter would decrease the need to at times forward position fuel and supplies for crews on longer or extended missions. A big part of the push is to engineer a new helicopter able to reach super high speeds while retaining an ability to hover, service officials explained.

So far, the Army has spent about $20 million on the effort, but plans to spend up to $217 million on air vehicle demonstration efforts and another $70 million on mission equipment technologies such as software, electronics and sensors.

This next phase of the program is designed to build upon recently completed configuration trade analyses wherein four teams of vendors, and government experts, studied parameters for a potential air vehicle. The air vehicle assessments and studies are part of what’s called Phase 1 of the program. The 18-month trade study contracts went to Boeing, a Bell-Boeing team, Sikorsky and a 15-month contract to the AVX Corporation, Army officials said.

The Army and its industry partners have been exploring a range of potential air vehicle configurations, to include a tilt-rotor option, coaxial rotorblades and pusher props for additional thrust, among others, service officials explained.

The Army plan with these anticipated contract awards is to award four vendors the opportunity to further refine and develop their respective designs. Following these awards, the Army will then move toward an eventual down select to two demonstrator teams — before working toward a ground test and eventual flight test.

“Our basic strategy has always been we want to take four (vendors) through initial design and two through flight test,” an Army source familiar with the program indicated.

Phase two of the JMR program is focused on what’s referred to as “mission systems,” essentially sensors, avionics and other electronics designed to support the platform.

“If we’re talking about fielding an FVL by 2034, we would not want to pick radios, navigation systems, weapons and sensors that are out there today because we are talking about 20 years from now. What we don’t want to do is to specify the mission systems and develop them from today’s technology,” said an Army official.

Ultimately, mission systems configurations will include sensors, GPS, inertial navigation and graphics showing moving map displays. Sensors on the aircraft will assist with surveillance and targeting and help avoid collisions through a technology called “controlled flight into terrain.” Also, the aircraft’s mission systems will help the aircraft navigate through brown-outs or what’s called “degraded visual environment.”

The notional goal for the mission systems, or phase II of the JMR program, is to engineer technologies that are interconnected and inter-operable, service officials said.

“We do not want individual subsystems on the air vehicle of the future. We want them integrated,” an Army official said.

Last year, the Army awarded mission systems effectiveness trades and analysis contracts to vendors to study specific mission system areas. The contracts went to Rockwell Collins for avionics, Boeing for avionics communications technologies, Honeywell for sensors and sensor fusion, Lockheed Martin for avionics architecture, sensors and weapons, Sikorsky for aircraft survivability and SURVICE Engineering for survivability analysis and evaluation.

“We asked them to research and study the state of technology today in those subsystems and look at where technology is going,” an Army official said.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • Bernard

    This is where we need new kinds of thinking. Drones are giving us a great opportunity to reduce costs, but it only works if we cut back on manned aircraft projects. Manned helicopters are still a great need, but the roles they will fill are going to shift. We cannot rely on past methodology to develop the strategy for the future, we have to factor in this new technological shift.

    • C-Low

      Drones are just not ready for heavy EW in a contested environment. To survive in an environment were your gps maybe jammed, communications gone, and sensors spoofed you cannot replace the human brain for its reasoning, processing, then adapting ability. In such an environment on its best day a drone is a reusable cruise missile with no flexibility on its worst day it is spoofed into default return to home or absolute worst it is spoofed into the ground.

      Either way you cannot change the fact that when you add a unknown humans adapt computers just get caught in a loop.

      • Bernard
        • Ben

          After just losing an RQ-170 to Iran (Iran!!), I’m not convinced.

          • Bernard

            The first plane the Write Brothers built only flew for 4 seconds, what’s your point?

            We nearly blew North Carolina off the map with a nuke even with human pilots flying that B-52. When we went to get Osama a human pilot crashed our stealth helicopter in Pakistan (Pakistan!). Maybe we need to ban human pilots, they seem unreliable…

          • Ben

            The point is that the RQ-170 isn’t a first of its kind Wright Flyer. They’re near state-of-the-art, built by the Skunk Works, not some run of the mill MQ-1.

          • Bernard

            The B-52 was a first of it’s kind Wright Flyer. There isn’t an piloted aircraft in military service that hasn’t had an accident. Even F-22’s have crashed.

            Regardless, the RQ-170 isn’t even a 2nd generation design, drones are still new technology with tons of lessons still being learned daily.

          • Ben

            All the more reason not to flood critical missions with drone labor yet.

            You’re head’s in the right place, but you’re pushing for too large an adoption of tech too soon. We’ll get there, don’t worry.

          • Bernard

            Too soon? The article is talking about 2030. As fast as this technology changes we will be well into 2nd generation by then. We need to plan for that if we want to keep our edge.

            By 2050 combat air missions will likely be 70% unmanned.

      • blight_

        If GPS is jammed and communications gone, then the pilot flying PGM’s already has no way to effective engage a target…short of going Iron Hand like it’s 1969 and getting shot down.

        I suppose in future conflicts we’ll use GPS/GLONASS/Galileo/Beidou and depending on which system is jammed…or use the NSA to figure out a way to un-encrypt protected signals to use adversary satnav.

        In re autonomous aircraft, they will probably do rudimentary bombing missions just fine. Fly to coords. Feed coords to bomb. Drop bomb. Fly away.

        • tiger

          Try flying a Zero over the mid Pacific back in the day with no navigator & few radio beacons? Now that was fun….

          • blight_

            I imagine that’s why night ops were super rare in WW2…and will probably be quite rare in wartime.

  • Lance

    Dont get it why spend millions on designs companies can do on there own? I interested in what there ideas are. But this is 2034? well that’s a bit too far down the road for major spending.

    • tiger

      Shareholders disagree.

  • JamalTheBanker

    This picture kinda bums me out because it implies that we’re still going to be in the middle east by the time this helo comes out… Id like to see a pic of one of these bad boys landing on the Wall of China with an American flag, unloading 30 packs of Bud heavys. That’s what they’re going to be used for, right?

    • https://www.facebook.com/tyler.totten1 Tyler Totten

      To be fair, there are places that look similar to this in the Mojave and other places in the US. Just saying.

    • tiger

      China? One billion plus will be waiting to shove that flag where the sun does not shine. Not to mention being on the wrong side of a big ocean.

      • blight_

        It’ll be like the Romans in Persia…far from supplies, at the mercy of the weather, the unhappy locals and those damned Asiatic Parthians…

        • tiger

          Sorry, but somebody needs to knock these GI Joe wantabes into reality. Fight China? Stupid on many levels….

          I hate computer issues. I miss these chats.

    • notmyname

      Actually it’s in 2035 California, trying to stop the re-annexation by Mexico.

      • tiger

        Why not sell it back? Give the screwed up dump back to them.

    • guest

      JamalTheBanker, we’ve got more than enough bankers in the states.

      Why don’t you become JamalTheBiker or JamalTheHiker, and go land on the Great Wall with an American flag. Don’t forget to take your entire family with you. Please don’t bother the Dept of State for rescue if you run into any difficulty, as the federal government is already overstretched.

  • RRGED

    I hope it’s a SCARY-BADASS design!!!

    • 009

      Like a fusion of an Apache/ Comanche with a touch of a chopper from Avatar.

      • Barry O’Batty

        Instead of worrying about some video game image, how about something that is durable, functional, and radar avoiding?

  • DB-1

    I really hope they think outside the box and consider things like two or more ducted fan jet engines or double countering rotors with a powerful pusher prop or do I dare say jet engine…. I’m just saying.

    • Tom Profan

      Whats with the Boeing Pulse Concept ? Was it just a joke ?

  • Jacob

    Sounds like there’s already an existing aircraft that would meet the Army’s needs: the V-22 Osprey. Might as well use it, now that we’ve already spent so much money on developing it.

    • Musson

      The Biggest Problem with this TiltRotor is not the design but the politics:

      When the props are pointed upward - it can be piloted by Army personnel.
      When the props are levelled out - must switch to Air Force pilots.

      • blight_

        You can sheep-dip personnel between services easily, right?

      • JohnnyRanger

        No problem - the coc…sorry, “flight deck”, has 2 seats :-)

    • majr0d

      Actually the V280 Valor is different than the Osprey. Just the rotor system tilts not the whole engine. It’s potentially much simpler, safer and cheaper.

      The V22 is a great machine and revolutionary but it’s the first. We need to push the design.

    • tiger

      One size, does not fit all jobs.

  • OldmanRick

    Is that a 6,000′ pressure altitude or a density altitude? DA is a limiting factor in both in and out of ground effect hover and can adversely affect gross weight and useful load. A hot day may produce a 6,000′ DA where the actual altitude above sea level may be 3,000′ or less. The minimum design requirements should require hover in and out of ground effect at max gross weight at a 12,000′ DA.

    • hunter76

      95 F at 6000′ does describe the air density.

  • Rest Pal

    The same inefficient, flawed design of the ugly Osprey in 2030???

    How ambitious! LOL.

    • Curt

      What where you expecting a single rotor/tail rotor concept like the H-60 with all it’s well known flaws like slow speed and limited ferry range? That is a Bell proposal and has numerous changes from the Osprey. For instance, the engine is fixed, only the rotors tilt. Additionally, it has side doors and a v-tail. Too bad you are driving the same basic car design pioneered back in the 19th century, you know, gas engine in front, four wheels at each corner. No refinements or improvements from lessons learned on previous generations.

    • tiger

      Find a conventional chopper that can meet those specs. You can not……..

  • Dfens

    Why doesn’t the Army have it’s own R&D house capable of doing advanced research into new concepts and making that research available to contractors? Instead they will pay a bunch of contractors for a bunch of paper vehicles that have little merit and no basis in reality, then they’ll down select to the 2 or 3 ideas that are little more than incremental derivatives of existing vehicles. Then they’ll say, “gee, I wonder where all the innovation has gone.”

    • LoSul

      Because the contractors are where all the actual engineering knowledge is located. AATD is full of the exact pie-in-the-sky scientists you are referring to. Its the contractors who have to stay grounded in reality because they have to actually build and sell the product.

      Theres a very good reason the government doesnt do design work.

      • Dfens

        And where would those people with all that supposed knowledge go if the DoD stopped paying contractors to do R&D? Do you think they’d spontaneously combust? You don’t suppose the government could hire those people directly instead of hiring them through a blood sucking contractor? Yeah, that would require more than one step thinking. Too complex for anyone used to being told what to do and think by a defense contractor.

        • LoSul

          Your thinking is what is short sided; you clearly haven’t the slightest clue about how contracting works.

          The entire reason that contractors have the knowledge and base skillset employees is because they also spend their own money earned outside of military contracts (i.e. civil aircraft) to develop technology and perform R&D. The government uses contractors precisely because they leverage that fact. Do you really think it would cost the government less if they had to fund and facilitate any and all industrial progress with tax dollars?

          I can only assume you have your head in the sand if you are of the belief that the government is an efficient well-oiled machine that, without the threat of going out of business, would be perfectly capable of managing an entire industry. I suppose youre ignorant to the fact that almost everything the government manages is a huge mess.

          And what makes you think that the talent base would be willing to work for the government directly versus better paying jobs in the private/civilian sector?

          • Rest Pal

            not true.

            No contractors would be so stupid as to use their “own money” - it’s all taxpayers’ money. They have an army of lobbyists (lawyers with expertise in manipulating politicians) to make force Congress to pass laws that not only subsidize them for R&D in lots of rubbish, but create loopholes so that they pay little or no taxes.

          • guest

            How could they use it when they don’t even have their own money? It’s all taxpayer’s money.

          • guest

            LoSul, you are making things up here. The contractors use taxpayer’s money to do research for military technology, and then adapt the technology to the civilian market. Not the other around.

            Moreover, a broad range of the military technology began in academic institutions like the CIT or MIT.

    • tiger

      We call it DARPA……

  • hunter76

    “We do not want individual subsystems on the air vehicle of the future. We want them integrated,” an Army official said.

    Typical military-industrial-political madness. Anticipate all problems in advance. If a subsystem turns out sub-par, don’t switch it out, replace the entire aircraft. We could call this helo the HF-35.

    • Bernard

      An integrated system can still be modular. If all the electronics are in one box then all you have to do is replace that one box and keep the air-frame. Although I would hope that box has a few backups for redundancy and safety.

    • Curt

      In this case, integrated means they all function together. So they are plug and play. so when you get a new radio, you don’t have to change everything else. No new panels, no new headsets, just software. Want to carry a new defensive aid or new sensor? Plug into the bus and update the software. So yes, kind of like the F-35 which is vastly superior to legacy aircraft in that regard.

  • Delta707

    Alright I’m sorry if I’m missing something the whole reason for this project. However my question is, why? Doesn’t the V-22 Osprey fit the bill already or is the Army looking for something more specific?

    • Tiger

      One size does not fit all. Nor do the Army & Marines carry the same gear.

      • Delta707

        Ok, then wouldn’t modifying the V-22 be a better and cheaper choice?

        • majr0d

          The V280’s engine doesn’t move. Just the rotor system. It’s potentially simpler, safer and cheaper. It’s fundamentally a different aircraft. Redesigning the Osprey to do the same thing would be about equal to rebuilding the whole machine.

  • Barry O’Batty

    6000′? The Chinook is operational at 15000′ and travel at 150 knts…. How does the Osprey stack up against the Chinook in typical helicopter operations…hover, lift accurately and haul heavy loads at high altitudes?

    • tiger

      The flying school bus is a flak target. Nor do you need a bird that big to carry a fire team. 150knts is not 300 by a long shot.

    • Riceball

      Different mission, the Chinook is a heavy lift bird while the Osprey is a medium lift bird; in Marine Corps service it’s replacing the old medium lift Sea Knight but not the heavy lift Super Stallions.

    • majr0d

      The Chinook’s max speed is 170 knts. http://www.boeing.com/assets/pdf/rotorcraft/milit…

      The Osprey and the Chinook have entirely different missions. The Osprey is replacing the CH46. You can also compare it to a Blackhawk if one must.

  • Smith28

    V-22 has had its past, but what do you expect from a new system? ‘Perfection’ only comes through trial and error and the V-22 has gone through that and in my eyes prove itself. Right now the V-22 is the prime aircraft of its design and role (is it not?), so why does the Army need something so drastically different? Is it size? Multi-role capabilites? I’m sorry If I’m missing the reasoning, but honestly with budget cuts happening left and right do we really have the money to be introducing a new VTOL platform? I think the answer is no.

    • Rest Pal

      The Italians have come up with a much better design at a fraction of the Osprey’s R&D costs.

      Once the entire WWII generation and the first post-war generation of foreign scientists and engineers have retired or passed away, the US will begin to see a nose-dive in its R&D capabilities in science and technology.

      • guest

        It’s already happening, NOW.

    • majr0d

      The V280’s tiltrotor system is entirely different. Only the rotor tilts not the engine. This could potentially be a simpler, cheaper and safer approach.

  • brownie

    This project won’t take until 2034. All the branches are just stalling over the next three years; until our radical disarmament fanatic and his team leave the WH. Everybody’s keeping new concepts on the low heat setting until then. Meanwhile? Hollow Force 2 is upon us.

  • chrisgoike

    Placing bets on how far behind and over budget and under expectations they are.

  • AAK

    The Valor looks like the only real step-change design. Whether the V-22 should have continued is an arguable point, but it did, and a lot has been learned. It’s a proven system now and the valor is a generation above it.