Teaming of the Army's two major helicopter suppliers could provide an opening for European manufacturers to compete. AgustaWestland says it “is committed to the U.S. market and ready to evaluate future opportunities there,” but adds the company “is now more focused on the VXX [presidential helicopter] and, possibly, the AAS [Armed Aerial Scout], which may have closer requirements in terms of timelines.”
EADS North America says it is “currently evaluating how our capabilities align to the needs articulated in the BAA [JMR TD Phase broad area announcement].” But the decision by the two major U.S. primes to team is not expected to influence “one way or the other, whether the company pursues FVL-M, a source says.
The goal of JMR TD “is to mitigate risk for the program of record by examining configurations and components of FVL candidate technologies. The JMR TD BAA does not preclude or suggest teaming,” says Bill Lewis, director of the Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center's Aviation Development Directorate.
“In addition, the nature of the FVL-Medium program and FVL family of vehicles, utilizing a common architecture and operating environment, will allow for competition by all throughout the life cycle of the fleet,” he says.
The long timescale envisioned for the FVL program—which would not get underway until the mid-2020s, and not begin replacing the Army's Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks until the mid-2030s—is a key reason behind Boeing and Sikorsky opting to team now, while operational requirements and program plans are at an early stage, says Mehta.
“We are discussing a very long-term program, and we are in it for the long haul together,” he says. “We are relying on the technology processes in both companies and their ability to continue to innovate in the long term.”
Boeing and Sikorsky are not revealing the configuration they will propose for JMR TD Phase 1. But the solicitation sets as an objective a speed of at least 230 kt., 50% faster than today's helicopters. Although Mehta emphasizes 230 kt. is “an objective,” it is likely the team will propose a compound helicopter, given the investment Sikorsky is making in its X2 high-speed coaxial-rotor compound configuration.
AATD is focusing on higher-speed rotorcraft under JMR TD because its past investment has been in conventional helicopter technology. The directorate wants to balance its research portfolio before the Army has to make a decision around the end of the decade on choosing a conventional or advanced rotorcraft configuration for FVL-M.
“No doubt, the requirements we have in hand will alter over time,” says Mehta. “If the requirements change, our intent is to continue to pursue them together. This is a technology and a business collaboration. It is not specific to one existing technology.”
Bell, meanwhile, says AATD's operational effectiveness analysis report for JMR TD “validated the unprecedented speed and range of tiltrotor technology that will be required to meet future military operations.”