Bell V-280 Selected for FLRAA Contract – Defense Security Monitor

Bell V-280.Image – Bell

The US Army has selected the Bell V-280 tiltrotor aircraft as its new Future Long Range Attack Aircraft (FLRAA) for service. The V-280 has been competing for the FLRAA contract with Sikorsky and Boeing’s Defiant X compound helicopter.

The FLRAA was originally designed to augment and eventually replace the Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk utility/tactical transport helicopter. The service has approximately 2,000 Black Hawks in service or scheduled for delivery over the next few years. The Army has yet to specify FLRAA’s general acquisition plans, but the new rotorcraft are unlikely to replace the Black Hawk on a strictly one-for-one basis. The V-280 and UH-60 are expected to serve side-by-side in the Army fleet for many years.

The program plan calls for the first FLRAA prototype to be delivered in FY2025. It is planned to deploy the first unit in FY2030.

The initial value of the FLRAA development contract awarded to Bell Textron was $232 million, capped at $1.36 billion upon exercise of options. This initial contract covers improvements in weapon system design and activities related to sustainment, digital enterprise, manufacturing, systems integration, flight testing and airworthiness qualification. The initial phase will also include the development of a virtual prototype of the new rotorcraft.

The potential value of the entire FLRAA program is approximately $70 billion, depending on the size of Army acquisition and possible foreign military sales. With new approval from the US Army, the V-280 will be a strong contender in the global market for future purchases of utility and tactical transport rotorcraft.

In the longer term, the Army has been considering developing an attack rotorcraft derived from the FLRAA practical model. The attack version will be used to replace the service’s Apache helicopters. In addition, the V-280 can be used as a replacement for the US Marine Corps AH-1Z attack helicopter and UH-1Y transport aircraft. The Navy could get a maritime strike version to replace its MH-60R/S Seahawk helicopters and fire reconnaissance drones. The V-280 variant could also become the USAF’s new combat rescue helicopter.

However, many, if not all, of these acquisitions may open up competition. Much of the competition is expected to come from Sikorsky and Boeing, possibly with a Defiant X-based rotorcraft design, or at least incorporating a host of technologies from the Defiant X program or Sikorsky’s X2 technological efforts.

A blow to Sikorsky, but hope remains

Losing the FLRAA contract was a blow to Sikorsky. The Black Hawk accounts for a significant portion of the company’s production each year, and if the contract is not won, the Army’s eventual replacement of the Black Hawk would result in a shift in the company’s future business focus and a reorganization of the product line. At the time of writing, Sikorsky and Boeing had not yet decided whether to formally protest Awarded the FLRAA contract.

However, the negative impact on Sikorsky of losing the FLRAA contract should not be overstated. With the service’s UH-60M program of record completed, Sikorsky will produce Black Hawks for the Army by the late 2020s, with production of export Black Hawks expected well beyond that timeframe. In addition, upgrades, modifications and maintenance work on the large number of existing Black Hawks around the world will help keep the company busy. Additionally, Sikorsky was shortlisted for the Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) program, the subject of a Sikorsky-Bell competition.

FARA plans to fill the Army’s armed scout role, which is currently filled by Apache helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles. The award of the FARA contract is scheduled for FY25. FARA’s competing designs are the Sikorsky Raider X and the Bell 360 Invictus. Like FLRAA, FARA’s first unit fielding date is FY2030.

The FLRAA and FARA will be the first rotorcraft to appear in the Pentagon’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program, which involves the procurement of an entirely new family of rotorcraft to modernize the US services’ fleets. The goal of FVL’s efforts is to develop and produce next-generation rotorcraft with a wide range of capabilities. These rotorcraft are designed to meet the various replacement needs of future US military helicopters. The FLRAA and FARA will also be the first new rotorcraft to be acquired by the US military since the Bell/Boeing V-22.

Another notable future opportunity is the Next Generation Rotorcraft Capability (NGRC) program launched by France, Germany, Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom under NATO sponsorship. This effort is initially aimed at the development and production of a new mid-level multipurpose rotorcraft to replace existing assets in the Allied fleet in the 2035-2040 time frame. While a European solution (from Airbus Helicopters and/or Leonardo) could be the likely winner here, it’s likely that there will be some type of collaborative arrangement with Sikorsky and Boeing to use the Defiant X in the final design technology.

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