Doubts Swirl around Army’s Next Generation Helicopter Fleet

JMRDespite its long-term budget woes, the Army has come up with $217 million in seed money for a four-way contest on the future of Army rotorcraft that potentially could be worth billions to the defense industry contractors who come out ahead in the competition.

The contest involves two established industry giants – Bell Helicopter and Sikorsky/Boeing – and the startups AVX Aircraft and Karem Aircraft, and features tilt-rotor concepts against radical new designs of conventional helicopters.

Under the $217 million cost-sharing agreement with the four firms, the Army set the initial stage for the development of a Joint Multi-Role (JMR) aircraft that would serve as the forerunner for a family of rotorcraft which would eventually replace the UH-60 Black Hawk, the AH-64 Apache, the CH-47 Chinook and the OH-58 Kiowa.

Whether the plan makes sense in the current climate of declining defense budgets and a sequestration process that would cut defense spending by about $1 trillion through 2021 is open to question.

“The near-term outlook for new program starts in rotorcraft is pretty bleak,” said Loren Thompson, executive director of the Lexington Institute. With little sign that Congress will act to lift the defense cuts, new programs for “helicopters as well as ground vehicles are moving slowly and grinding to a halt” in the Army, said Thompson, a defense industry and Pentagon consultant.

On Wednesday, Heidi Shyu, the Army’s assistant secretary for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, called the impact of the defense cuts “devastating” for the Army.

“The prospect of sequestration-level reductions through FY 2021 threatens to lower Army investment in soldier equipment to historic lows as a result of steep and sudden reductions required under the current law caps,” Shyu told the Tactical and Land Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

“In short, the Army faces an unprecedented challenge in delivering capability to soldiers now and well into the future,” Shyu said.

Shyu’s remarks contrasted with the upbeat sales pitch for the JMR technology demonstrator offered this week by Bell Helicopter and Sikorsky/Boeing at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual convention and exposition.

Bell had a full-size version of its JMR-TD on the convention floor – the tilt-rotor Bell V-280 Valor, designed to have a cruise speed of 280 knots (280 mph) and carry a crew of four and 11 troops. One of the main differences between the Valor and the Bell V-20 Opsrey would be that the rotors on the Valor tilt while the engines remain stationary on the wings.

The advantage Bell has in the competition is that “tilt-rotor technology has been proven in combat” by the Osprey in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Dana Schenck, marketing communications manager for Bell.

Each of the four firms in the JMR competition has received $6.5 million from the Army and “Bell is making a significant investment,” Schenck said, but she declined to say how much.

Sikorsky/Boeing also had a full-size model on the convention floor but it was not of the JMR-TD. Instead, Sikorsky showed off its proposed high-speed SB-97 Raider aerial scout and attack helicopter.

The Raider had the same main features as Sikorsky’s proposed JMR-TD, named the “Defiant” – a pusher propeller and counter-rotating, coaxial main rotors. “It’s really going to change the way we employ rotorcraft on the battlefield,” said Steve Engebretson, director of Advanced Military Programs for Sikorsky.

One advantage of the Defiant is that it can fly backwards, said Frans Jurgens, communications manager for Sikorsky. In concept, the Defiant could back away from a hot landing zone while maintaining fire on the enemy by reversing the pusher propeller, Jurgens said.

In what could be seen as a dig at the tilt-rotor concept, the promotional material for the Defiant said the aircraft relied on “design innovation, not complex technology.”

The two other entrants in the Future Vertical Lift competition – AVX Aircraft and Karem Aircraft – had their own variations on the conventional rotorcraft and tilt-rotor designs.

AVX has proposed an aircraft with coaxial main rotors and ducted air fans on either side of the fuselage for additional speed and lift.

Karem Aircraft, a late entrant whose proposal was only approved for cost-sharing by the Army on Oct. 2, has offered the fastest tilt-rotor design, with a claimed speed of 360 knots (414 mph). Karem Aircraft was founded by Abe Karen, the former chief designer for the Israeli Air Force who has often been called the “father” of the Predator drone.

The Army expects to whittle down the competition to two contestants by next June. The two winners would then build proototypes for a flyoff to begin in 2017.

25 Comments on "Doubts Swirl around Army’s Next Generation Helicopter Fleet"

  1. The Army should not make an extraordinarily expensive mistake by following the Marines down the tilt rotor rathole, evolved or not. MV-22s have an incremental cost of about 65M each. Compare to UH-60s at about 1/10th the cost. Interestingly, Boeing, an experienced rotorcraft builder, has opted out of the nextgen tilt rotor, instead partnering with Sikorsky on a compound / coaxial design. Hmmm….

  2. Be better to make a new conventional helicopter since Army air ops are much closer to the front then USAF and Navy rotor aircraft fly. The extra range and speed isn't needed.

  3. As long as it's not that piece of crap V-22. That thing is a flying death trap…in my opinion.

  4. For the Army's mission type, I think a tilt rotor gives up too much time in transitioning flight versus that ability of a conventional rotorcraft to get up and out of a hot LZ in a hurry, or go from forward flight to hover in short order. Tilt rotors have transition time that I have never cared for in a scenario where you are taking fire…especially if they plan to build an Apache replacement on this platform.

  5. International roll out of the V-22 has begun, so I guess the world disagrees with wtpworrier. A new design is required if it is to be multi-role that can replace a versatile Black Hawk, a super agile Apache, and scale to the cargo capacity of a Chinook. Let's not forget the past, the Army sucks at requirements. Marines and Air Force at least know how to conservatively specify what they want with technical precision. The Army just asks for a rock. I feel sorry for the startups, they don't stand a chance with a customer like that.

  6. "Whether the plan makes sense in the current climate of declining defense budgets and a sequestration process that would cut defense spending by about $1 trillion through 2021 is open to question."

    The Abrams, Bradley, Blackhawk and Apache all came out of the cash strapped drawdown focused 70's.

  7. $217 Million? For that amount the administration could only buy 1/3 of a non working web site from Canada. Kudos to the Army.

  8. Why re-invent the wheel ?. Is there anything basically wrong with the Blackhawk, Apache and Chinook designs that updates wouldn't take care of ?. What's the threat that needs the latest and greatest ? Granted they need new airframes to replace 20-30 year old frames who will run out their service life, but the basic designs seemingly fit the bill now. New engines, new electronics and it would be a heck of a lot cheaper.

  9. stephen russell | October 25, 2013 at 9:34 pm |

    I would add NOTAR to chopper chosen unless planned for & adapt controls from Oblivion Bubbleship for real time use, see movie Oblivion.
    That might save some fuinding alone.

  10. Can we go back to the days where the company footed the bill in order to develop something to sell to the military, and not the other way around? Was it like that in the golden days of R&D or am I mistaken?

  11. I think not …………………

    ….. "speed of 280 knots (280 mph)" …..

    ….. " 5 Knots = 5.8 MPH" …..

    ….. "1 nautical mile / hour = 1.15077945 miles / hour”…..

    ….. or to put it another way …..

    ….. "1 mile / hour = 0.868976242 nautical miles / hour" …..

    ….. so you can do the math and convert 280 knots to mph yourself!

  12. There are no "international" V-22s. It first flew in 1989 and no other military or airline wants them. Hagel told Israel a few months ago that they must accept some as gifts from the USA. There are stories that Bell bribed some sheiks in the UAE to buy some for joy rides. But no serious military wants them. They are twice the cost, half the readiness, with one-quarter the payload of similar size helos. Range is the same, and the only advantage is 30% more speed. Want proof? Search for a photo of a foreign flagged or airline painted V-22, and no else is building tiltrotors.

  13. Incorrect Herb. UAE, Japan, and France have expressed a desire to purchase V-22s in addition to the deal with Israel. Of those, Japan makes the most sense for covering their outer islands which are on the edge of helicopter range.

  14. I think AVX is on the right track with a scaled-up Micro Machine design. My kids love flying those things. You can teach anyone to fly those. The Chinese have built millions of these so all the risk is taken out. What could be more perfect?

  15. Huge waste of money. Learn to use your new tools. Establish air superiority then use fleets of drones to harass the enemy into dust. Cheaper. Easier. And no one comes home in pieces or boxes. In air drone refueling is the next logical step.

  16. Comments posted by a Special Operations pilot at an on-line forum provide insight:

    They were flipped over in 'airplane' mode, crashing into the trees (or onto A-78, the range) and no one was killed? Sounds kind of sketchy to me, aircraft zipping along and crashing at aerial gunnery speeds don't result in wounded crewmen who leave the hospital in a few days or a week. Sounds to me like they were doing gunnery from a hover mode (which you aren't supposed to do unless over an LZ, which doesn't exist at A78, at least not for CV-22s), one bird got some dirty air from the other and a 'roll over' did occur, but in a hover operation that they shouldn't have been doing. Hence the need to fire Matt Glover (the squadron CC), they were dicking around and not following correct range procedure and smashed an aircraft in the process. I almost saw a CV-22 do the exact same thing at Baker LZ (big patch of grass and sand on the airfield at Hurbie) trying to do two-ship operations, chalk two got into the dirty air of chalk one and almost lost control of the aircraft. Thought I was going to see a Class A right in front of me. I also saw the CV-22 twice set Baker LZ on fire with their exhaust heat, that bird has some real design 'issues' (would say problems, but apparently some folks don't like that word, so I'll stick with 'issues')

    Sucks to hear that 'G-Lover' is getting thrown under the bus for this. But hell, considering that they let the Group Commander, a bird colonel, almost crash a CV-22 8 months ago when he put one into the trees just south of Big T LZ and managed, by the Grace of God, to get it back airborne with only some damage to the nacelles and wing flaps (and remained in place as the Group Commander, go figure), tells you all you need to know about how things work in the Air Force these days. Apparently, this is how it goes these days:

    Happen to be a lieutenant colonel in charge of a squadron that has a crash he had no way of preventing or foreseeing – get fired and have your name and picture splashed all over the internet with no hope of any future promotion or position of authority. Happen to be a full-bird colonel (C-130 pilot, no less) who attempts to tactically fly and land an aircraft he was totally unqualified in, almost crashed, flies the damaged tilt-rotor back to base, hops off and allows the crew to continue flying for two more hours – get downgraded in your primary aircraft (the Herc) for a week, then get requalified and stay on as the Group Commander with a possible shot at Brig. General.

    Difficult to say why the 8th left OEF. The CV-22s are hard to fit into most SOF current operations because they really are unique airframes and require concrete or asphalt landing pads for any kind of sustained operations. You can't use them for MEDEVAC or CSAR, the downwash is too massive. The dirt and dust of Afghanistan (and pretty much any other dry/desert area) eat their engines up at a phenomenal rate. I heard one rumor that they were replacing those Rolls-Royce engines every 70 to 100 hours, sometimes even less. Those engines cost a mint, so you can imagine how that affects the cost of a downrange deployment (or even home station training). Add in the hydraulic problems (5000 psi system vs. the 1500 to 3000 psi used in all other rotorcraft and C-130s) and software issues and it's just too complicated of a bird for combat operations.

    Having said all that, I think the concept of the V-22 is legit. We do need something that breaks us out of this 140 KIAS limit we seem to be stuck in with helicopters. I'm all for pushing forward with new designs (Sikorsky has come up with some really cool new versions of the helicopter recently, for example). The problem is, the Marine Corps convinced themselves that they needed to rush it through test and development to replace the incredibly old CH-46s and the USAF went along with them. So now, you have an operational aircraft that is still having test phase kinds of teething issues and people are dying trying to make it work in the operational side.

    In my eyes, they need to transfer all the birds to the USMC, send them up to Pax River and finish testing and modifying them. The CV-22 is not ready for prime time, simple as that. Maybe in 5 or 10 years after more test and development, but right now, it's a widowmaker.

  17. Here's the new Bell 16=passenger helo it offers for sale, after its civilian tiltrotor failed in both costs and FAA certification….

  18. Captain Obvious | October 27, 2013 at 12:36 pm |

    K-19 Windowmaker

  19. it is a fucking osprey for god sake I thought that we already had them

  20. Considering all of the money the Army has spend on failed helicopter programs, why doen't the Army give up on for naw and spend the money to develop a lethal and reliable rifle?

    Get back to the basic now with the limited resource available.

  21. Unmanned vehicles is the future. Bite the bullet and go there. I'm sure the Army also had a very hard time putting their horses out to pasture.

  22. For the sake of the US Army, I think it should adopt an improved derivative of the UH-60. Another V-22 programme would is disastrous.

  23. chaos0xomega | October 31, 2013 at 8:54 am |

    So, how long are we going to figure it'll take the Air Force to somehow kill this program in Congress (like the last time the Army tried to develop a new helo)?

  24. Not cool…….

  25. I wonder how much the V-280 is projected to cost. If it were going to exceed that of the V-22 in terms of unit costs, good luck.

Comments are closed.