Army Expected To Release RFP for New Scout Helicopter

 - September 18, 2018, 11:58 AM

Within days, the U.S. Army is expected to release a formal request for proposal (RFP) for prototypes for a future attack reconnaissance aircraft competitive prototype (FARA CP) that it hopes to fly by 2023 and have in production by the 2030s. FARAs are intended to replace the Army’s fleet of decommissioned Bell OH-58 Kiowa Warrior armed scout helicopters, a mission now being flown by Boeing AH-64 Apache gunships and MQ-1C UAVs. 

The Army is looking for between four and six conceptual designs and then plans to settle on two design teams by 2020 with a fly-off in 2023 and a program award in 2024. The FARA is intended to complement the medium lift aircraft that will result from the upcoming Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD) competition between the Bell V-280 Valor next generation tiltrotor and the Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant compound helicopter. 

Army officials already have hinted that they want the same 200-knot-plus speed offered by the Bell and Sikorsky-Boeing JMR-TD designs. What they don’t want is the mass, preferring an aircraft small enough to easily operate in a dense urban environment; one that can carry a crew of two, one, or none, the latter with fully remote piloted/autonomous capabilities. It would also need to integrate with UAS and be able to launch its own UAS. Off-the-shelf designs that are believed to come close to meeting the FARA requirement include Sikorsky’s S-97 Raider and Airbus X3 compound helicopters or the Leonardo AW609 civil tiltrotor. Bell officials have also noted that the company's V-280 design is “scalable,” pointing to the unmanned V-247 tiltrotor concept it has proposed for the armed forces. 

In a draft solicitation for the program released this summer, the Army made its case for FARA, noting, “Army Aviation must operate in highly contested/complex airspace and degraded environments against peer/near peer adversaries capable of an advanced integrated air defense system. The Army currently lacks the ability to conduct armed reconnaissance, light attack, and security with improved stand-off and lethal and non-lethal capabilities with a platform sized to hide in radar clutter and for the urban canyons of mega cities. To close this gap, the Army envisions an optionally manned, next generation rotorcraft with attributes of reduced cognitive workload, increased operational tempo (OPTEMPO) through ultra-reliable designs and extended maintenance free periods, and advanced teaming and autonomous capabilities.”

FARA would be the Army’s fourth attempt to devise a replacement for the OH-58 over the last four decades, having abandoned the pricey RAH-66 Comanche program in 2004 after spending $7 billion and building just two prototypes; the less ambitious ARH-70 Arapaho, a military variant of the Bell 407, in 2008 after per unit costs ballooned to $14.5 million; and the Armed Aerial Scout program in 2013, after estimated program costs grew to $16 billion.