The U.S. Army expects the aircraft that will replace the UH-60 Blackhawk to fly faster, farther, and deliver troops to the battlefield safely.
The priorities for the U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift program include improvements in speed and range as well as new sensors and targeting technologies. The new generation of rotorcraft should serve for decades once it enters service.
The Army is now testing, assessing, and deliberating on two separate helicopter programs for the future. The first is the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), while the second is the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA). The FLRAA is expected to double the range and speed of the current UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. Competitors include Bell Helicopter’s V-280 Valor, a tiltrotor design, and an entry from Lockheed-Sikorsky-Boeing called the DEFIANT X.
Both models are designed to meet Army requirements for speed, range, and lift. Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said he’s excited about the prospects for the FLRAA program. In an interview with The National Interest, Hodges did not favor one entry over the other but was pleased with the Army’s requirements and goals for the program.
“I served four times with the 101st Airborne Division, was in Iraq two times and nothing is more important to how the U.S. Army fights than having rotary wing lift,” Hodges said. “The ability to move firepower, perform MEDEVACs, and provide logistics is an essential part of how we fight.”
A new aircraft is needed due to changes in the threat environment, which includes longer-range ωɛλρσɳs that fire with greater accuracy. Another challenge will be how to develop aircraft that can operate while dispersed, yet also mass large amounts of combat power when necessary for operations.
“Of course the distances are becoming greater, the loads are becoming greater and enemy air defenses are getting better, so there are so many different challenges,” Hodges said. “The U.S. is working hard to develop a capability that can put a lot of troops on the ground in a small place quickly so we can mass combat power. They are working to come up with a system that is survivable and can meet the requirements.”
Both of the competitors in the FLRAA competition include unique capabilities to meet the requirements for speed, range, agility, and performance. The Army also expects the aircraft to operate in punishing conditions in temperatures above 95 degrees and altitudes above 6,000 feet. At high altitudes, it becomes more difficult for the aircraft to maintain lift and perform as needed.