The US Army has announced it has shortlisted two contenders for its Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) requirement.
The two aircraft – Sikorsky’s Raider X, and Bell’s 360 Invictus – beat out a number of other contenders including a clean-sheet design from Boeing; a team comprising Karem Aircraft, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon; and a teaming of AVX and L3Harris.
The FARA shortlist announcement comes less than two weeks after the FVL Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program shortlisted the same two companies to develop an eventual replacement for the US Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk.
The Raider X is based on Sikorsky’s S-97 Raider prototype which has a coaxial main rotor and a rear-mounted pusher propeller. The S-97 has been flying for several years, and the technology and configuration developed for it has also been applied to the larger SB>1 Defiant it developed with Boeing for FLRAA.
“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, manoeuvrability, survivability and operational flexibility,” Sikorsky’s vice president of future vertical lift, Andy Adams said in a March 25 statement. “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.”
Bell is yet to fly its 360 which is a more conventional single rotor and shrouded tail rotor design, although it says many of its systems and dynamic components will be leveraged from its larger commercial 525 program which was recently certified.
“Bell is proud to continue work on the Bell 360 Invictus as part of the Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft Competitive Prototype competition,” Bell’s vice president of advanced vertical lift systems, Keith Flail told Defense News. “We have made significant investment and begun manufacturing in order to preserve the Army’s schedule for FARA CP and we are thrilled to continue our work on the Invictus.”
Both aircraft feature long and low-slung fuselages, a chin-mounted cannon, low-drag tandem cockpits, faceted shaping, shrouded rotor heads, and internal weapons bays. Some of these elements appear to be aimed at providing a reduced radar cross section compared to the current AH-64E Apache and other attack/armed reconnaissance helicopters.
Both the Raider X and the 360 are smaller and lighter than the Apache, and will fulfill the armed reconnaissance role left vacant by the cancelled RAH-66 Comanche and ARH-70 Arapaho programs, and the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior which was retired in 2012.
The shortlisted companies are required to build prototypes for a flight test program starting in FY2022, while final down-select and the start of the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase is expect to begin in FY2024. The US Army plans an initial operational capability in FY2028.