Q: Many future operational concepts focus on increased distribution of forces and growing anti-access/area denial (A2AD) threats. What are the primary challenges that future operational environments create for Army Aviation and rotorcraft more broadly?
Tenney: This is a very important question for two reasons. The first is that both Army and joint organizations engaged in research and analysis regarding future conflict agree that the operational demands of the future are changing dramatically. The second is that the developmental and fielding timelines for major new starts like rotorcraft are so extended – typically 15-20 years – that prudence demands that these aircraft are designed to meet future requirements, rather than just those that confront the force today.
A2AD is a big part of the calculus and to understand those challenges, we have to look at them in two parts – anti-access (A2) and area denial (AD).
To begin with, achieving assured access has three distinctive elements. Geographical access refers primarily to the ability to operate in remote locations with austere infrastructures, the best examples of which are Afghanistan and Africa. Political access addresses the question of whether or not US forces will be granted access to bases, ports, other facilities, and airspace under the sovereign control of our potential regional partners in a future conflict. The absence of political access, like that experienced in OIF when Turkey denied overland transit of US forces across Turkey into northern Iraq, creates huge problems with respect to timeliness of response and the distances that have to be traversed to reach the desired objective area. (In the example just cited, because the 4th ID could not be downloaded from sea in Turkey, it was forced to wait an entire month afloat, until space was freed up in the very limited port facilities in Kuwait.)
The third element is enemy anti-access (A2), which encompasses deliberate efforts by potential adversaries to deny the US air and maritime access, employing capabilities designed specifically for that purpose. China’s current and projected anti-access capabilities provide an excellent example of such deliberate efforts:
• Air and Ground: anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles (launched from air and land), anti-ship strike aircraft, state-of-the-art integrated air defense, unmanned aerial systems.
An effective A2 regime will affect both the ability and timeliness of the joint force to get to the theater and, once there, to get into the fight. The Army faces the greatest challenges on these points, although the USMC will also find it increasingly difficult to mount amphibious or aerial operations from the sea in the face of an operational exclusion regime. When combined with the decline of U.S. global deployment infrastructure, these factors create conditions under which the start-point for entry operations may be hundreds of miles from the objective area, i.e., beyond the reach of all but a small part of the joint force.
The second component of the assured access challenge – area denial – is operative at the tactical level. Enemy capabilities for area denial include advanced guided rocket, artillery, mortars, and missiles (G-RAMM), which include improvements in range, precision, and lethality. The adversary will employ these capabilities under many conditions, but they will have particular value when used to deny known or easily identified landing areas and to engage US maritime forces operating in the littoral.
Collectively, the A2 and AD challenges place increased emphasis on ground and air capabilities for advanced mobility, speed, and range, which are further enhanced if a smaller logistical footprint can be achieved. The failure of the U.S. to achieve visible improvements in these areas has the potential to significantly retard an effective U.S. response in a crisis, thus undermining operational collaboration with regional partners while emboldening regional adversaries.
In addition to A2AD, there are four important trends, already observable in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are expected to continue to affect larger scale operations. First, and most importantly for aviation systems, the breadth and depth of future operational areas are expected to increase significantly in size. Second, the battlefield framework will be further characterized by non-contiguous areas of operations (AO), i.e. AOs that are separated from each other within the larger joint operations area (JOA). Third, the range of environmental conditions that the future force can be expected to confront will likely encompass more extreme conditions and more activity in urban terrain. Fourth, the nature of future threats will introduce operational complexity with respect to the ability of future adversaries to combine some high-tech capabilities with a variety of operational patterns (hybrid warfare). These conditions will drive new demands across forces operating in the land domain to expand operational reach with fires and maneuver, increase optempo, achieve situational understanding over larger areas, and simplify and reduce the logistical footprint required to support such operations (particularly important in austere areas).
[Side-note: Joint documents such as the Joint Operational Environment (JOE), Capstone Concept for Joint Operations (CCJO), Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC), Major Combat Operations Joint Operating Concept (MCO JOC), and Army concepts like the Army Operating Concept (AOC) are all consistent with the points made above.]
Q: Some have argued that the pace of innovation for rotorcraft is lagging far behind that of fixed wing aviation. Do you agree with this analysis, and if so, what are its effects?
Tenney: Yes, I agree strongly that RW technology is lagging far behind fixed wing aviation. Frankly, the assertion is indisputable. FW systems are inherently simpler than rotating wing aircraft and have been studied intensely for far longer. RW designers still don’t have the tools and data to fully comprehend the complex interactional aerodynamics of RW systems. The general state of technology of onboard systems is also well behind that of modern FW aviation.
The current DoD vertical lift fleet is a “second/third generation” fleet, depending upon how you assess it, at best. It consists of core vehicle designs developed in the 1960s and 1970s that have been repeatedly upgraded over the years. Moreover, those designs were optimized for battlefield conditions that the US expected to face in a conventional war with the Soviet Union in Europe, supporting and sustaining large mechanized forces over short (tactical) distances, sustained from secure rear areas. Thirty-five years have now passed, operational demands have changed significantly, yet the aircraft designed and fielded for those Cold War conditions, notably the UH-60 Blackhawk and AH-64 Apache, remain in the force as the main-stays of the DoD fleet. Even older aircraft designs – the UH-1 Huey (Iroquois), AH-1 Cobra, CH-47 Chinook, and CH-53 Sea Stallion – were birthed and employed during the Vietnam War. The V-22 is the only new RW aircraft configuration developed since the 80’s and it’s design is rooted in the same period.
Throughout this 50-year time period, military investment has dominated the US vertical lift aircraft market. However, for the last three decades, DOD has focused vertical lift R&D investment mainly on phased block upgrades to the current fleet. As a result, innovation in RW technology has suffered, the average age of the engineering workforce has risen, the ability of industry to generate new designs has atrophied, and the US rotary wing industry is becoming less and less competitive in international markets as the years go by. While there are many reasons for the policy choices that underpin these undesirable trends, their negative effects are apparent.
The contrast with fixed wing aircraft technology innovation is stark. With fielding of the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning in progress, the USAF and USN are now actively working to define the “6th generation” fighter considered necessary to maintain air dominance for introduction into the force beginning ~2030. The primary military competitors of the US – Russia and China – are still in the initial stages of fielding 5th generation. The US remains the world leader in this technology area and the Department is fully committed to retain technology overmatch.
I tried to find the historical investment levels for FW versus RW S&T to share with you but failed to find the material I was looking for. I did find an FY09 briefing from OSD DDR&E that shows that RW investment is about 14% of the total air platforms portfolio. I think that is about the level I have seen over the years. It is mildly misleading because turbine engines are accounted separately, but it is easily a 4-5 to 1 difference in the level of investment between FW and RW aircraft in the DoD.
Sub-Question: You mentioned a concern about US competitiveness in world markets. Who are the primary international competitors challenging the US today in RW technology and innovation?
Tenney: Although US foreign military sales of RW aircraft remain relatively healthy, it would be fair to say that Europe has moved ahead of the US with respect to innovation and variety. Today, European-made helicopters encompass a wide variety of commercial and military aircraft and compete aggressively against US industry. This increasingly strong position has been fueled in part by the fact that, in Jan 2001, all the major political and industry players in European aviation endorsed a 20 year vision (European Aeronautics: A Vision for 2020). The vision proposed combining public and private investment to achieve two primary goals: global leadership in the marketplace and a world class air transport system for Europe. A recent article in Aviation Week (28 Jan 14) described high hopes for the Clean Sky 2 public/private research program, which is expected to include two fast rotorcraft demonstrators, a tilt-rotor concept led by Agusta/Westland and a compound helicopter led by Airbus Helicopters (formerly Eurocopter). Clean Sky 2 is intended to run from 2014-2023, supported by $5.5B in public/industry funding. This is a huge investment and shows Europe’s collective commitment to dominating the aviation landscape. In addition, some companies like Agusta/Westland are experimenting with very aggressive developmental timelines, trying to create the processes and organization that will enable industry to move much more quickly from concept design to an actual flight article. This is a U.S. national economic challenge as well as a military one.
China lags significantly behind the West in terms of the capabilities of its fielded fleet of helicopters, but the country appears to be committed to closing that gap and moving further ahead. Like its European counterparts, Avicopter is also developing several high-speed configurations. The Jueying is a compound technology demonstrator that combines coaxial rigid rotors and nose-mounted counter-rotating propellers, with a projected speed of 270 knots. The Feihong, also in flight testing, is a VTOL, swept-wing aircraft with a piston-driven air fan mounted in the middle of the fuselage. Perhaps the boldest concept, the Blue Whale is a design with four tilt-rotors and a design payload of 44,000 lbs, max range of 1,930 miles, altitude of 28,000’, max speed of 290 knots, and combat radius of 440 nm. Blue Whale looks a lot like the Bell Helicopter Quad Tiltrotor from a few years ago. Thus far, no militarized versions of these aircraft have been revealed, although Avicopter certainly understands that support by the Chinese military will be necessary for their further development.
What are the technologies that hold the most promise for revolutionizing current systems?
Tenney: New aircraft configurations are what are required to achieve the kind of performance essential to future military operations and commercial markets. Tiltrotor aircraft, proven viable by the V-22, show great promise to make dramatic performance improvements in all realms of flight using advanced technologies. Compound helicopters, which use a combination of auxiliary propulsion and/or lift supplementation, also offer improvements in speed and efficiency. Other configurations, which were tried in the 50s and 60s, may also prove to be viable with the advent of new technologies.
The technology areas that enable these configurations are similar to what made current conventional helicopters viable and continue to improve their performance over the first generation systems of the 60s/70s. Advanced rotor systems that allow for increased speed and efficiency are first on the slate. Whether it be tilting rotors which serve as both lift and propulsive force or edgewise rotors that are slowed or designed in different ways to retain lift and control at significantly higher speeds. The rotor design and approach is a key fundamental technology that sets much of the rest of the aircraft. We need investment in the aerodynamics, dynamics, structure, and control of rotor systems. The rotor hub is included as a basic part of the rotor system and has been one of the least invested in elements over the last few decades.
The next set of technologies is those that power and drive the rotor system. Mechanical and electrical drives are heavy and expensive. These systems scale by torque and are a significant element of the aircraft empty weight. New technologies that reduce losses in these systems, reduce weight, and improve reliability pay huge dividends in both acquisition and sustainment costs. Likewise, turboshaft engines and the subsystems that generate power for the main drives and aircraft systems need constant improvement. Today’s turbine engines are much better than those of the early vintage but they have been designed to operate most efficiently in conventional helicopters at a constant speed. We know that variable speed operation, whether through the engine or drive system or a combination of both, bring significant efficiencies for future systems. We need real investment in these technologies.
VTOL systems are extremely sensitive to weight. More so than FW systems. In a FW system, you can compensate for a little more weight by longer landing and takeoff runs. There is definitely a penalty there, but not like there is in a VTOL system. In a VTOL aircraft, every added pound translates into that much more lift and installed power to get it off the ground. So everything that creates weight is a ripe area for technology contribution. The basic aircraft structure, flight control schema that control loads imparted into that structure, and all of the subsystems needed to make the aircraft functional are in need of technology contribution. Simple things that you might not think much about, such as wiring weight, are significant in our aircraft.
The threat environment is getting more challenging for all of aviation, but especially for those systems that insert, extract, and protect ground forces. New technologies to manage signatures, provide self-protection, and survive damage are vital considerations. Each such addition to the aircraft adds weight, drag, cost, and complexity and effects the overall performance of the aircraft. Lasers are a real threat for future systems and new means of protecting both humans and sensors will be a primary consideration on the next battlefield.
I could go on and on. But suffice it to say, that in order to realize new, faster, more efficient, more survivable, higher reliability, and lower footprint aircraft requires the combination of new aircraft configurations and the supporting component technologies that enable them.
“Lessons learned. Tradeoffs. Taking advantage of previous investments. The need for further study. If there’s one thing the US Army and Marine Corps share, it’s a host of well-worn phrases trotted out at congressional oversight hearings to explain why their latest attempts to build a new combat vehicle will be different from previous failures. In the midst of fighting two wars, the two services poured billions of dollars into developing, then scrapping, expensive next-generation vehicles. But they both promise the investments haven’t been wasted and that, this time, they have truly learned from the mistakes of the past.”
“On Monday, the top spokesman for General Dynamics Land Systems, Peter Keating, told me GDLS could not compete for the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (APMV) program unless the Army changed how it ran the competition. Today, as even Keating expected, the Army officially denied the GDLS protest. Breaking Defense obtained a copy of the decision just an hour ago. We’ve already received statements from Army Materiel Command, General Dynamics and its rival BAE Systems, the odds-on favorite to win the contract. You can read all these documents below and click here to read our analysis of the AMPV program and why General Dynamics protested in the first place.”
“House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan laid out a budget vision Tuesday that goes beyond President Obama's request by ramping up defense spending beyond the caps in 2016 and restoring them by 2017. Ryan does this by taking from the nondefense side of the ledger and still reducing overall federal spending beyond what is contemplated under the total sequester caps. "This budget rejects the president's cuts to national security.… It also keeps faith with the veterans who have served and protected the nation," declares the Ryan budget, which increases defense spending above what President Obama has called for by $273 billion over the 10-year budget window.”
“General Dynamics Land Systems cannot and will not compete for the Army’s largest surviving weapons program, the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, unless the service changes how it is handling the program, GDLS’s senior spokesman told me yesterday afternoon. A GDLS withdrawal would be yet another embarrassment for the Army’s chronically troubled acquisition system, since it would effectively leave AMPV with a single bidder to replace its aging and vulnerable M113 transports, BAE Systems, which is offering a modified version of its current M2 Bradley.”
“In a world where security challenges do not adhere to political boundaries and our economies are linked as never before, no nation can go it alone and hope to prosper. Achieving sustained security and prosperity in the 21st century requires nations to work together and to meet common challenges with uncommon unity and purpose.”
In this February 21. 2014 interview, Bruce Tenney, Chief of Advance Design at Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, discusses several technologies which could advance rotorcraft aviation. He sees advances in almost all areas of “what makes a rotorcraft a rotorcraft,” underscoring the importance of developing modern rotors and engines. Tenney also comments on the need to operate across the spectrum of altitudes and with variable speeds, and best to achieve these goals.
In this February 21. 2014 interview, Bruce Tenney, Chief of Advance Design at Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, discusses the issues posed by the proliferation of A2/AD technologies. Tenney discusses what advanced vertical lift can mean for the Army and how increased speed and range from future rotorcraft can help overcome threats from non-state actors. He sees the depth, endurance, and speed of Vertical Take Off and Landing craft as critical to future operations.
In this February 21. 2014 interview, Bruce Tenney, Chief of Advance Design at Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, describes the relationship and differences between future vertical lift and joint heavy lift initiatives. Tenney also discusses the evolution of the idea of having a joint family of aviation assets and how this idea has led to the current modern visions for future vertical and heavy lifts.
In this February 21. 2014 interview, Bruce Tenney, Chief of Advance Design at Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, discusses the framework and structure of the FVL initiative and the desire to create a more modern family of four classes of rotorcraft. Tenney details the next steps to align budgets, resources, and operational imperatives.
“The Pentagon improved its buying power on 51 of its 80 programs in 2013, resulting in $23 billion of procurement savings, according to a new Government Accountability Office report. The report, however, did show the estimated cost of DoD’s 80 acquisition programs increased by $14 billion, primarily due to the addition of one new program, the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle.”
“The U.S. Army wants high-powered, rapidly tunable infrared lasers to detect chemical weapons. "High-power sources that can be wavelength-tuned extremely rapidly are needed for the detection and identification of chemical vapors, aerosols, residues on surfaces," reads the small business innovation research solicitation. The Army suggests these devices have great potential. According to the solicitation, technology and industrial tooling used to produce “high-power rapidly tunable infrared sources covering the long wave infrared region have the potential to revolutionize current infrared analysis and remote sensing methods.””
“Army aviators in Kuwait spent much of 2013 training for an unusual mission—flying from Navy ships. This new mission is a major shift for the ground combat branch in the Middle East … and elsewhere. Before 2003, the Army’s primary worry in the Mideast had been another Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The U.S. military first set up shop in the emirate in 1991 after liberating the country from Baghdad’s forces. Now American troops in Kuwait mainly worry about the Persian Gulf—especially the Strait of Hormuz. The narrow waterway is a key route for commercial ships in the region. But it’s hardly the place for the ground forces’ infantry, tanks and artillery.”
“The U.S. Army’s top leaders defended their proposal to strip the Army National Guard of its AH-64 Apaches attack helicopters as part of a cost-saving move. Army Secretary John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said the proposal would help the service avoid some $12 billion in costs — a significant level of savings in an era of automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.”
“The first week of April will be a critical one for what has been a relatively drama-free armored vehicle program for the US Army. The Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV), which formally kicked off as a program in 2012, is slated to replace the Army’s M113 infantry carrier, which service leaders have said can no longer meet the protection or power-generation needs of the modern armored brigade combat team on the battlefield.”