"WASHINGTON — The US Navy, in its fiscal 2015 budget proposal, said it wants to cancel a planned buy of 29 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters in 2016.
The service’s reasoning is fairly simple: The Navy is considering retiring the aircraft carrier George Washington due to defense spending cuts. Retiring a carrier means one less carrier air wing — which includes MH-60Rs.
But a major hurdle lies in the helicopter cancellation: The Pentagon signed a multiyear procurement deal with Sikorsky Aircraft and Lockheed Martin — makers of the helicopter — for those 29 machines, meaning the costs associated with terminating the contract could end up being higher than the purchase price, according to Defense Department and industry officials."
The US Army is putting the finishing touches on a bold new strategy for how it prepositions stocks of critical equipment around the globe, how it uses those stocks to speed deployments — and who pays for it. Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno ordered the revised strategy last year as part of his vision to make the service more capable of deploying quickly to meet threats, and assist in humanitarian and disaster relief missions. And a key element of the plan is to pass off some of the cost of using and resetting the equipment to the combatant commanders.
“The US Army is considering certifying some of its attack helicopters to operate from ships — a mission historically conducted by the Marine Corps — as the service looks to broaden the role it would play in an Asia-Pacific battle. Operating from ships at sea “seems to be a growth capability, and we do sense that there is increasing demand out there” in South Korea and US Central Command, said the Army’s director of aviation, Col. John Lindsay, at an April 8 event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.”
“The National Guard's leader dialed back his opposition Tuesday to an Army plan that would shift resources and cut total Guard personnel by 19,000 soldiers. Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau, had expressed opposition in recent months to the Army’s plan in the 2015 budget to transfer all of the National Guard’s AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to the active Army while replacing them with 111 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. Grass had suggested he had alternative proposals that would allow the Guard to cut fewer soldiers and keep at least some Apaches, but at Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he avoided detailing such a plan and instead said he was ready to implement the decision of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
The U.S. Army is facing a time of great change. The security environment is becoming increasingly complex and uncertain, with defense challenges multiplying. At the same time, the Army is adjusting to rapidly diminishing operational demands, falling endstrength, reorganization, and tightening budgets. Despite this churn, the Army has continued its long-standing emphasis on the centrality of the soldier and squad as the cornerstone of future operations. Chiefs of staff going back decades or more have reiterated the theme that soldiers (and more recently, squads) remain the fundamental essence of the institution.
Given these new realities, the CSIS Harold Brown Chair in Defense Policy Studies examined the current state of the soldier/squad system and how it might be best advanced in the face of constrained budgets. The effort was conducted under the rubric of the Ground Forces Dialogue, a Brown Chair effort aimed at facilitating a broad, sustained, web-based conversation about the future of U.S. ground forces.
Q: How should the Defense Department, the broader aviation community, and the Army in particular best promote innovation to help close gaps and address the issues that have been raised?
Answer: First and foremost is the need for the FVL community to stay the course on the FVL initiative and move it forward to a working program as soon as possible. The Army clearly has a strong leadership role in this area. It must have a strong voice and display an undeniable, visible commitment. At the present time, both are in doubt. Similarly, since the Army’s JMR TD is the primary technology foundation for FVL, the Army must remain committed to continuing that activity through its completion. OSD and the Army must avoid the temptation, in the face of near-term needs and fiscal constraints, to allow FVL to fade away.
Simultaneously, activities by the Army and joint communities to “lighten the force”, with respect to structure, logistics, materiel sciences, and power/fuel/energy, will have favorable effects on FVL and JHL/JFTL/Ultra if they are continued.
With respect to JHL/JFTL/Ultra, the JMR TD reduces some of the architecture and component approach risk. However, what is most needed here is the revitalization of the JFTL initiative and the pursuit of a size representative demonstration. The JFTL ICD remains valid and actionable. What is most lacking is a commitment by the DoD, and namely the Air Force to pursue it.
Finally, I believe that it is important to raise the visibility, indeed the necessity, of FVL and JHL/JFTL/Ultra, within the operator community. The Joint Staff and the Army need to make a concerted effort to visit GCC staffs to explain the benefits of both FVL and Ultra and link them to future GCC operational needs.
Q: There is some confusion about the heaviest variant in the FVL family, the “Ultra,” and the Joint Heavy Lift program. Can you describe how the two relate?
Answer: I mentioned earlier that Ultra is the “very heavy” FVL class, with a design payload target of 20-36 tons, with considerable interest in the mid- to higher end of that range. In capability terms, the Ultra corresponds to an aircraft concept known as Joint Future Theater Lift (JFTL). The JFTL developmental project was in turn based on a comprehensive body of Army work (known as Joint Heavy Lift) to establish a requirement and explore technology development for a large tilt-rotor aircraft capable of conducting vertical maneuver of medium weight forces (~30T) and aerial distribution to point of need, over theater distances.
JHL/JFTL (and Ultra) fulfill a mandated role for the Air Force to provide intratheater lift. As a result, JFTL definition was pursued from 2008-2012 under Air Force lead, in close collaboration with the Army. The effort produced a JROC-approved ICD in Oct 09 and was followed by a non-standard JFTL Technology Study (JTS) in lieu of an AoA. The JTS examined six different aircraft alternatives and demonstrated conclusively that the VTOL alternative provides the most operational effectiveness to the joint force for both aerial distribution and vertical maneuver. Following the completion of the JTS in 2012 and its approval by the AFROC, the entire initiative was terminated by the USAF.
• What is currently planned and programmed for the JHL program?
Answer: Although a JROC- approved ICD for JHL/JFTL/Ultra remains extant, the program is moribund. However, should the AF initiate an effort intended to replace its C-130 fleet or to introduce a new intratheater airlifter, JFTL should be viewed as the start-point and authoritative foundation for such an effort. The Army is continuing to explore the operational significance of JFTL in its concepts, wargames, and experiments, but it has no capability or standing to attempt to re-initiate an actual program of development without going through the Air Force. [NOTE: The same is true for the FVL community, which views JHL/JFTL/Ultra as falling fully under USAF auspices on the basis of “roles and missions”.]
• What do you see as its primary operational and strategic benefits?
Answer: JHL/JFTL/Ultra is primarily an operational-level, intratheater resource. However, it has the ability to self-deploy, with significant payload and can be employed to augment strategic airlift to move forces by air over considerable distances (>2100 nm, depending on weight).
The Army view is that JHL/JFTL/Ultra has the potential to provide the most dramatic benefits in utility and operational significance to the joint force and the Army for both vertical maneuver and theater sustainment. In multiple analyses, wargames, and studies over the past 8-10 years, it has eclipsed all other mobility capabilities investigated in terms of its positive operational impact. This impact, however, applies almost exclusively to the VTOL concept for the aircraft. STOL alternatives are judged to fall well short of the impact that can be achieved by heavy-lift VTOL. There are nine specific features of the HLVTOL JHL/JFTL/Ultra that distinguish its operational superiority. I’ll just refer to JHL/JFTL/Ultra as HLVTOL from here on for brevity.
• Superior Access with Proximity to the Objective. HLVTOL provides huge advantages in the future contest for access. The inescapable fact is that the ability to conduct vertical take-off and landing at extended ranges vastly opens up the land domain for vertical maneuver and sustainment. One recent two-year study of 14 countries (Global Deployment Assessment, Mar 10 – Apr 12) identified 48 million more VTOL landing sites than the relatively rare sites suitable for horizontal TOL. Moreover, even when contingency airstrips are used, the number of HLVTOLs that can employ in such an area exceeds that of fixed wing aircraft in terms of simultaneous presence on the ground and the number of times that an unimproved surface can be used before it has been degraded. [For example, a 3,000’ dirt-strip can support a single C-130 on the ground at any time, with limited re-use, while 10 Ultras with the same payloads could operate on the same airstrip for a near indefinite period of time.] A third major point is that the Ultra’s advantages in access mean that it can deliver forces and stocks in close proximity to the objective (within tactical range of an assault objective for immediate approach and attack or directly to the point of need for sustainment). This kind of flexibility and these kinds of options simply are not available for horizontal landing aircraft.
• Versatility and Agility (full ROMO). It is difficult to conceive of a future operation of any size for which the employment of HLVTOL would not have considerable and unique value above and beyond current fixed wing and rotary wing fleets. If fielded, HLVTOL would present major operational benefits across the entire range of military operations, including:
o Joint forcible entry operations (JFEO) via vertical maneuver of mounted forces from land or sea. The capability to introduce a highly mobile, medium-weight force for JFEO or subsequent intratheater vertical maneuver instead of light, tactically immobile, dismounted forces, represents a major break-through in maneuver capability.
o SOF direct action at extended ranges, without refueling, directly to objectives rather than to an off-set landing area.
o Non-combatant evacuation (NEO), with far fewer aircraft.
o Humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) into remote areas which are not accessible to fixed wing aircraft. Recent history has shown the difficulty of getting fixed wing aircraft into locations where they can support HA/DR and the same is true of short-range tactical helicopters.
o Aerial sustainment directly to the point of need, from land or sea bases
o Amphibious air assault well beyond the littoral
o Extended range anything (CSAR, MEDEVAC, CASEVAC, Fuel Cow, etc.)
• Augmentation for Strategic Lift. Because of its extended range, HLVTOL can be employed to move forces and stocks over distances in excess of 2,000 NM, depending on payload. Ultra is not a C-5 or C-17 substitute, but could augment the strategic lift systems for select missions.
• Operational Reach. Similarly, the unrefueled radius of action for the HLVTOL in operations such as vertical maneuver, NEO, or HA/DR can extend as far as ~1,000 nm, depending on payload.
• Ability to Achieve Surprise. HLVTOL does not rely on runways, dirt strips, or airfields which will often be occupied or under enemy observation. Vertical take-off and landing permit it to be used anywhere where there is sufficient, level or moderately sloped ground space (300’ diameter landing area). This feature, plus its ability to complete force closure very rapidly in proximity to the objective, enables our forces to achieve surprise against the enemy, which will almost never be possible with fixed wing aircraft, except for airdropped forces.
• Theater Distribution. As noted earlier, the verticality and range of HLVTOL permit it to carry out aerial distribution from theater support bases across the entire theater distribution network, including to small unit outposts, thereby reducing time-tables, ground force structure, infrastructure, and casualties. The aircraft can also be employed for aerial or ground refueling.
• Seabase Capability. Fixed wing aircraft sized to deliver HLVTOL payloads cannot operate from shipboard, but a VTOL aircraft can.
• Simplicity (relative to other options). Finally, the issue of simplicity should not be ignored. It has several facets. For example, when used in theater distribution, HLVTOL greatly simplifies that function by eliminating one or more node transits and mode transfers (air-to-ground, ground-to-air) and delivering directly to the using unit. For vertical maneuver using fixed wing aircraft, the AF first requires that unimproved landing areas or even first-use runways be certified before use, through a complex, overt, time-consuming process that forfeits surprise and may be easily denied by an alert adversary. In contrast, HLVTOL can be employed in an air-assault paradigm that requires only a few hours of covert preparations. For these operations, MOG is also a major problem for horizontally landing aircraft. They require more time, much larger areas, and often many different areas, which may be separated from each other by significant distances, to deliver forces of battalion size and larger. In contrast, HLVTOL can execute such missions in smaller areas, over shorter periods of time, with little fear of having degrading effects from re-use.
• What are some of the main technical challenges, and how can these be best addressed?
Answer: The biggest technical challenge is simply the scale (size) of the aircraft. VTOL aircraft, until we discover anti-gravity, have to generate vertical force. The best way to do this within the foreseeable future is via moving an airfoil through the air and generating lifting force. There are other ways to generate vertical force, but they are all operationally unsuitable in some way. Rocket thrust, jet thrust, or any other means of upward thrust creates unacceptable surface conditions. Buoyancy lift removes the surface problems but generates other problems with ballast control, altitude management, and slow speed operations. The most effective and viable means to accomplish the capabilities I have described earlier is via a large rotorcraft. We have looked at the many different forms of rotorcraft, and for the mission sets associated with JHL/JFTL/Ultra, tiltrotors dominant the solution space.
Tiltrotors are not new. There have been multiple experimental aircraft flown The V-22 is the first operational tiltrotor, and by the growing number of press reports we see daily now, is proving the military value that its visionaries’ and developers foresaw. We see the Europeans committed to developing a commercial market for tiltrotors. The AW609 is slated for full certification by 2016. So building an effective tiltrotor aircraft is no longer in doubt. Although, you will still find some skeptics, who are pretty out-of-date technically, that can’t disassociate their past perceptions generated during development problems, with the configuration in general. Or they will assume that some aspect of the V-22’s design, which they don’t like, is just an innate characteristic of tiltrotors. I guess such is the fate of all new product introduction.
The best way to address these skeptics and all the arguments they offer is to build an aircraft and show them it works, that it does what the designers said it will do. Legitimately, skeptics aside, in the case of JHL/JFTL/Ultra, there is a need to fly a scale representative vehicle. All rotorcraft, like all other aircraft, and for that matter all complex systems, are a combination of interacting parts. In the case of rotorcraft, the dynamic interplay of airloads, structures, response rates, control schemes, etc. is always a risk area. We understand much more of the physics of this interplay today than we did even a decade ago, but we are still on the front end of the fundamental understanding of all the interactions that happen in rotorcraft, such that we can design it right, the first time. That’s why, nationally, it is vital that the DoD and NASA retain our meager investment in rotorcraft S&T. But that’s a different topic for a different day.
The body of design work we did during JHL, which is the most definitive study of the technology and characteristics of such a large VTOL aircraft, leaves no doubt in my mind that we can build a successful tiltrotor at this scale. However, there is considerable risk that we can reach the levels of performance at the weights we project. JHL design takes into account the advances over the last two decades in rotors, drives, engines, automation, and subsystems technologies that the DoD and NASA have invested in. We didn’t go after any “unobtainium”. We took a realistic view of what could/should be achievable. But JHL is a technologically advanced aircraft design. Anytime you design any aircraft, there is risk. And the further away from past designs you get, whether in scale, configuration, materials, or approach, you create more risk.
In JHL’s case, scale is the biggest unknown. At the weights and loads associated with that scale, do the structural properties and dynamics hold their relationships as expected? This is more of an issue for the rotor and drive systems than the basic fuselage. We have built large aircraft before and know how to design large fuselage and empennage elements. We’ve built large wings and understand those characteristics. The tiltrotor wings are different though. They are stiffness driven and not just strength driven. When you put the pieces together, the biggest risk of a large, ultra heavy lift VTOL, is that weight doesn’t get out of control in order to maintain dynamic stability and control of the aircraft.
If you’ve ever seen a video of a rotor blade in flight, you probably wouldn’t be willing to fly anymore on helicopters. It moves in every direction you can imagine and even some that you can’t. That is all a function of varying loads and forces resulting from controlled input and uncontrolled forces coming from the external environment and unknown interactions. The resulting forces imparted to the aircraft, its structure and dynamic systems, and its control actuators and effectors have to be accounted for in their material properties. More force, generally means more bulk in the materials. Sometimes, these things don’t scale the way you expect them to. So, from my perspective, the effect of scale is the biggest risk.
There are other risks, of course. Different design approaches and technologies in all areas of the aircraft can be a significant risk. We know that there is significant performance improvement to be had in slowing the rotor system during forward flight. That reduces the compromise in twist between hover and forward flight conditions, thus making the overall design perform better in both conditions. How much variation we put in the design and how we go about that can create risks in the drive system, engine, structural resonance, control schema, etc. Whirl flutter is something that all tiltrotor designers worry about. That is when the pulsive forces from the rotor get too close to the natural frequencies of the wing and fuselage and bad things happen. The larger the variation in rotor speed, the larger the band of frequencies that have to be managed.
I could go on, but I don’t want to scare you into thinking that there are so many unknowns that we can’t design a new tiltrotor. I could talk about the issues associated with fixed wing design and identify as many risk areas, which would probably just scare you off of flying altogether. And we don’t want to do that. We need to fly and these are just the things that the people that design and build these aircraft deal with in every aircraft.
The best way to address all of these risk areas is to just go and do it. We need to design, build, and test a size representative flight article. We could do that any number of ways. My preference would be to take the JHL designs we have already done at the conceptual level, and use them as the basis for setting the overall aircraft requirements, architectures, technological approaches, and define a representative flight article. I would do some wind tunnel and ground rig testing during the detailed design and build-up process. But ultimately, the proof of what you think you know, is in flight. We don’t have to build a “prototype” in the sense of what that word means to the military. We could build a technology demonstrator or even an X-Plane version. It just depends upon how much risk you want to buy down for the next stage of development. We have been and are still ready to go do just this. I would certainly like to see the DoD take this step. We know the operational value that such a system would bring. If we could build a demonstrator, I believe it would convince most of the naysayers and the DoD would move out to realize the tremendous capability that such a system would bring to us.
Q: What are the consequences if the FVL program is not fully endorsed and sustained over the long run.
Answer: As noted earlier, FVL is in its 5th year of activity. If it fails, those 5 years of work are lost and a re-start is unlikely for at least 5 years after its demise.
But, the prospective failure of FVL should be viewed in a larger context. The first element of the larger context is the fact that the FVL initiative is the 4th joint effort in the last 15 years to attempt to establish a developmental pathway for “next generation” RW aircraft. Obviously, the three previous attempts failed. Why has this happened?
Those failures rest on common ground. The primary reason for the failures is the absence of high-level Departmental advocacy that is institutionally sustainable over the long term. Both of these factors – high-level advocacy and institutional sustainability – are key.
The second reason is that the DoD rotorcraft fleet is a divided family. Although all Services, SOCOM, and the Coast Guard possess rotorcraft, requirements and the timing of needs are different. As a result, it is difficult to define sets of capabilities that satisfactorily meet the requirements of all the potential users of a particular class of aircraft. In the past, the path of least resistance to meet individual Service requirements has most often been to pursue separate programs of record. Once those separate PORs are in place, they themselves become obstacles to joint initiatives, since no Service wants to see its acquisition programs (which meet current requirements) decremented or delayed as a means of funding joint programs that will not bear fruit until well into the future.
Finally, as the majority owner of the DoD fleet, the Army is the Service that has the greatest overall need for and can expect the most significant benefits from new RW aircraft starts. Upgrading its fleet represents a major acquisition program(s) over an extended period of time. In contrast, even though helicopters fill important roles for the Air Force, Navy, and USMC, moving to “next generation” RW technology will often be viewed as significantly less important than maintaining and improving fixed wing aircraft and ship-building. The Army will always have the most skin in the game and the most to gain; other joint stakeholders, in contrast, can generally be expected to be less invested in the outcome of an initiative like FVL or its predecessors.
Returning to the question of consequences, then, we can say confidently that the demise of the FVL initiative would:
• Return the developmental approach to a one that is Service-centric and more likely to perpetuate the current practice of upgrades and modernization, rather than seek new starts based on new configurations and technological innovation.
• Ensure that the DoD and private sector RW technology communities stagnate further, further degrading US technological standing comparative to others, and possibly leading to tech overmatch in this key area.
• Severely constrain the Army ability to operationalize and execute its future concept of expeditionary, distributed operations until well beyond 2035.
These consequences appear to be sufficiently severe to warrant extraordinary efforts to avoid them. At the very least, the Department should ensure that an effective funding stream continues to flow into the JMR TD activities to enable the maturation of the technologies needed to move from conventional helicopters to more advanced designs.
Q. The Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program is currently underway and aims to develop a new generation of vertical lift assets. Can you briefly describe this program, its scope, ultimate goals, and approximate timeline?
Answer: FVL has not yet achieved program status, but it is in the 5th year of activity as a major OSD initiative.
In essence, FVL is a joint strategic plan, initiated by Congress in 2008, approved by the DepSecDef in 2012, managed by an OSD/Joint Staff/Services Executive Steering Group, with implementation led by Army. The FVL Strategic Plan projects the long-term transformation of the entire DoD rotary wing (RW) fleet through the development of the “next generation” family of systems, across 4 “classes”: Light, Medium, Heavy, and Ultra. The plan recognizes that modernization and upgrades to current aircraft will be insufficient to meet future DoD vertical lift requirements. Central emphasis rests on a joint multi-role approach and commonality. Industry participation takes place through the Vertical Lift Consortium (VLC) which was deliberately established in conjunction with this initiative to improve the strategic planning collaboration between the government and industry.
The Army led the development and JCIDS process for JROC approval of the FVL FoS ICD in April 2013 and it retains lead at present. Activity is now focused on conducting analysis and preparation for a materiel development decision (MDD), unofficially scheduled for the end of FY15, followed by an AoA to be completed in FY17, to support a MS A decision to proceed with acquisition of the FVL-Medium. The current target timeline for FVL-M IOC is ~2034-35.
• The first development within the FVL program is the medium-lift variant. Simultaneously, the Army is conducting the Joint Multirole – Technology Demonstrator program. How does the JMR-TD fit into the larger FVL family? What is the current timeline for JMR?
Answer: JMR-TD is working to bring together the kinds of technology I talked about earlier in the discussion into technology demonstration flight articles. As a Tech Demonstrator, JMR-TD, will show that new aircraft configurations, populated with new technologies and design approaches, can result in a feasible materiel solution for a combination of vehicle performance requirements. It is not a “prototype” program. It won’t select the specific configuration that will be pursued for FVL-M, nor will it set the specifications for the FVL-M. It will, however, greatly inform both.
JMR-TD is on schedule for first flight in FY17 for two test articles. The JMR-TD includes two primary elements. First, and the one most people recognize, is the vehicle performance activity that is ongoing right now with the four industry partners, (AVX, Karem, Bell, and Sikorsky/Boeing). However, there is another effort, funded at a smaller level, which is addressing future mission systems technologies, including the open architecture electronic backbone that supports aircraft and mission systems. The mission systems work is really just now beginning and you will hear more about it in the coming days.
The vehicle development work, commonly referred to as Phase I, is centered around a Model Performance Specification (MPS) that was developed to reflect a set of performance requirements representative of what an FVL-M might entail. At the point it was issued in January of 13, it was our best thinking on what FVL-M might look like. That vision is, of course, changing over time and so the JMR-TD MPS was never expected or advertised as the definition of FVL-M. We took the thinking at the time and stuck a line to use as a litmus test to design aircraft around. At the end of the JMR-TD, we will know how close our projections of a future aircraft come to reality and what technical areas require the most attention in future development work.
The JMR-TD carries a design effort against that MPS. It also is building flight articles that will represent a subset of that MPS design. The combination of flight article, ground tests, and analysis will be the proof, or not, of the MPS designs. We learn a ton of things from this activity that will greatly improve our decision process whenever FVL moves into a real development program.
I should note at this point, that we consider the JMR-TD not uniquely peculiar to FVL-M. We chose the conditions for the JMR-TD such that we believe we learn things that scale to the “light” and “heavy” classes of the FVL family as well. Even some of the technologies will provide us information in support of the “ultra” class. So, although we centered the JMR-TD around a point-in-time thought about the FVL-M, the technology community will be looking to scale as much of the learning we can across the entire family of future vertical lift aircraft. We believe that the JMR-TD fits nicely with the anticipated schedule for FVL. The MPS design activity will support the ongoing FVL analyses in support of a near-term MDD and the actual aircraft development work will prepare us for the Tech Development effort following a MS A decision in FY18. Keeping the JMR-TD fully funded and on track is very important for the FVL activity.
• In your view, what are the prospects for the JMR program in the current budgetary environment?
Answer: I think they are excellent. The senior leadership of the Army and of Army S&T are committed to the JMR-TD. I’m really pleased with the bottom-to-top support I see in the Army for this S&T effort. The only risk I see for the JMR-TD is the risk of the FVL initiative stumbling. FVL is an extensive initiative with lots of moving parts. Anytime you try to take as large an enterprise approach as FVL represents, there are many opportunities for delays and conflict. If FVL were to become fragile or experience a significant delay over that currently planned, the Army could get some “weak knees” in response to extreme budgetary pressures. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon. The Army has really stepped up on the JMR-TD program, and I expect it to hold its ground in the foreseeable future.
It does point out though, that the Army needs to be more than fully engaged with the FVL initiative, the other Services, Joint Staff, and OSD. The Army’s equities here are huge and it is imperative for the senior leadership of the Army to be upfront and visible and leading the charge for FVL.
Q3. Many, yourself included, have argued that future rotorcraft need revolutionary gains in speed, range, persistence, and payload.
• What are the operational, tactical, and even strategic imperatives for these advances, and what role have lessons learned from Afghanistan and Iraq played in shaping these requirements?
Answer. The first thing I would say on this subject is that, because the term “revolutionary” can mean different things to different people, it’s not a term that I would choose to characterize future improvements in rotorcraft capabilities. Instead, I prefer to think of these advances as “leap-ahead”, or “next generation”, or even “break-through”, if for no other reason than they extend beyond the outer limits of what can be accomplished in the future with helicopters. In other words, we have to break through the constraints imposed by the laws of physics on conventional helicopters and adopt new VTOL configurations, which are not as severely constrained.
With respect to the imperatives for these advances, I have already discussed many of the operational- and tactical-level driving factors in my previous answer. I would further note that strategic imperatives include the overarching mission set prescribed in current defense strategic guidance (Jan 12), which also has a bearing on the capabilities of future rotorcraft. For example, that mission set includes deterrence, rapid force projection, counter-terrorism, counter-WMD, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief. The requirement for rapid force projection in conditions of diminishing US strategic mobility capabilities and infrastructure highlights the benefits of self-deploying rotorcraft. [The Marine Corps has recently demonstrated the significance of this capability in the Philippines and Africa.] The other missions reinforce points I have made earlier regarding the expanding dimensions of future operations, their distributed and non-contiguous nature , the need to be able to maintain higher optempo, the expanding range of environmental conditions, and the ability to overcome access challenges, etc.
Regarding Afghanistan and Iraq, one of the most important lessons learned there is how universally relevant VTOL aircraft are to those kinds of operation and the degree to which they provide significant operational advantages with respect to reconnaissance, security, maneuver, aerial sustainment, aerial fires, rescue, and MEDEVAC. The deployed VTOL fleet significantly magnified force capability as a whole; had they not been present, troop numbers would have had to be augmented significantly to account for their absence. The experience also demonstrated the operational benefits that could have been achieved had the aircraft had higher performance levels with respect to speed, range, time on station, payload, and high/hot conditions. To cite just two examples: 1) even a modest increase in speed and range would have had a meaningful impact on MEDEVAC outcomes; 2) an improved capacity and payload capability for cargo aircraft, with improved range, could have reduced the number of ground convoys needed to sustain the force and carry out routine and emergency deliveries to remote company positions and combat outposts, while simultaneously reducing losses to IEDs.
• In what ways could a next generation family of vertical lift systems change the way the US Army operates?
Answer: I have not yet quantified for you the actual performance ranges that we have in mind regarding future rotorcraft. This question enables me to briefly do so to set the stage for my answer.
o Combat Radius: ~230 nm
o Speed: >230 knots
o Time on Station: As much as 2-6 hrs, depending on range to area of interest
o Payload: This attribute is essentially a fall-out from aircraft size and power, but the goal would be to design aircraft to account for mission-based, “pacing” payloads.
o Atmospherics: 6K/95, which corresponds to 12,000’ ISA
Given these improvements, their effects on rotorcraft unit employment can be described as follows:
• Significantly greater unrefueled combat radius to:
o Support the roll-back of an enemy anti-access regime
o Conduct joint forcible entry operations from land and sea-based platforms located in distant sanctuaries
o Conduct deep strike and vertical maneuver to operational depths
o Conduct aerial distribution to point of need across the breadth and depth of the battlespace
o Extend CSAR reach
• Increased speed to transit extended ranges more rapidly, reduce cycle time for assault and aerial sustainment, complicate enemy acquisition and engagement, and meet “golden hour” MEDEVAC metrics.
• Increased time-on-station (ToS) for aircraft performing ISR, escort, target acquisition/designation, CSAR, sonar distribution, maritime mine/countermine, and attack functions. Increased TOS equates to a higher “volume” of the function being performed, a higher level of simultaneity, more area covered, and reduced time periods when coverage is not available.
• Self-deployment capability for future RW aircraft to reduce the burden on strategic lift assets and provides a flexible employment option for force commanders in the early stages of conflict, an option which does not currently exist. This is an important consideration. If we have to use ships or strategic airlift (as it exists today and as the AF envisions it for the future) to deploy our assets, we are restricted to well developed, well-known, and fixed locations. The ability to self-deploy our RW assets allows them to go where they are needed, when they are needed. This is a huge aspect of becoming the expeditionary force that the Army desires to be.
• Capability to maneuver light- and medium-weight elements in assault configuration (internally-loaded, fueled, armed, with crews) for immediate employment, closing the force more rapidly.
• Execution of a “family of systems” approach that optimizes the distribution of payloads more equitably across weight classes, based on operationally-determined priorities.
• Expansion of the ability to operate in high-hot and high-cold conditions for appropriate mission segments, with larger payloads.
• Improved ability to operate in constrained urban spaces with UAS teammates and with the smallest manned system.
• Shipboard capability: ensures that future aircraft developed with a joint approach, can routinely operate from both shore and ship for maneuver, movement, and sustainment.
At this point, it would be remiss not to mention another capability improvement that would have major positive effects on all forms of RW operation, notably, significant advances in reliability, maintainability, and availability of future RW aircraft. The most significant operational benefit of this break-through would be at least a doubling of the optempo that can be maintained. In addition, this improvement would underpin reductions in cost, ground force structure, and operational uncertainty, while also freeing up aircraft to absorb a much larger share of force sustainment.