The U.S. Army has selected Bell and Sikorsky to provide prototypes for its Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) program. Government flight tests of Bell’s 360 Invictus and the compound, coaxial-rotor Sikorsky Raider-X will begin no later than the fall of 2023.
The Army has had a mission gap in this part of its rotary-wing fleet since it retired the last of its Bell OH-58 Kiowa Warriors in 2017. In a statement released Wednesday, the Army said the service “requires an aircraft capable of operating in a complex airspace and degraded environments against peer and near-peer adversaries with an advanced integrated air defense system. The current aviation fleet does not possess a dedicated aircraft to conduct armed reconnaissance, light attack, and security with improved standoff and lethal and non-lethal capabilities from a platform sized to hide in radar clutter and for the urban canyons of megacities.”
The FARA program is being fast-tracked under the “Other Transaction Authority for Prototype” (OTAP) agreements. “The Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft is the Army's number one aviation modernization priority and is integral to effectively penetrate and dis-integrate adversaries' Integrated Air Defense Systems," said Dr. Bruce D. Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics, and technology. "It will enable combatant commanders with greater tactical, operational, and strategic capabilities through significantly increased speed, range, endurance, survivability, and lethality."
The Army’s FARA solicitation structured the program into three phases: preliminary design; detailed design, build, and test; and prototype completion assessment and evaluation for entrance into the production phase. Initial competitors for the program included AVX Aircraft Co. partnered with L3Harris, Bell Helicopter Textron, The Boeing Company, Karem Aircraft, and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. (Lockheed Martin). Phase one ended when the government conducted an initial design and risk review assessment with each performer and selected two finalists to continue on to phase two.
Bell’s design includes a main rotor system design based on the Bell 525 Relentless super-medium civil twin currently in advanced flight test, a lift-sharing fixed wing, a supplemental power unit to increase power during times of high demand, fly-by-wire flight controls, ducted tail rotor, and an articulating main rotor with high flapping capability to enable high-speed flight. The aircraft's stealth styling resembles that employed by the canceled (2004) Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche. Weapons include a 20mm cannon, integrated munitions launcher, advanced sensor technologies, and a modular open systems approach (MOSA) enabled by a "digital backbone" from Collins Aerospace. Performance targets include high-speed cruise in excess of 185 knots.
Sikorsky’s Raider-X borrows heavily from its S-97 “Raider” demonstrator and features X2 technology that includes a rigid, coaxial main rotor, aft propulsor, and fly-by-wire flight controls, MOSA-based avionics and mission systems with "plug-and-play" options for computing, sensors, survivability and weapons; self-monitoring and condition-based maintenance to reduce routine maintenance and inspections; and growth margins for increased speed, combat radius, and payload. Performance targets include high-speed cruise in excess of 250 knots.
The down-select was announced soon after the same companies (with Sikorsky partnered by Boeing) received contracts for work on the parallel Future Long Range Assault Aircraft program to replace the UH-60.