The US Marine Corps, Army and the Navy are looking to the next generation of vertical lift that goes beyond the traditional helicopter. Potential adversaries are forcing the services’ to move their support facilities further and further away from the forward line of combatant.
Col. John Barranco, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, those restrictions put new emphasis on speed, range, payload, survivability and sustainability for aircraft that are projected to be entering the fleet in the early 2030s. They would replace Bell UH-1 Yankees Venom and Bell AH-1 Zulus Viper.
Col. Erskine Bentley, the head of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift program, said with increased lethality the new aircraft “gives us maneuverability and agility” on the future battlefield. ‘We’re just scratching the surface “in the very long investment in [science and technology]” that is looking at open architecture and inserting advanced technologies as apps into future vertical lift.
The Sikorsky-Boeing entry, called the SB-1 Defiant, is a compound helicopter design with co-axial rotors and a pusher-propeller. The aircraft is based on Sikorsky’s revolutionary X-2 design that was designed to overcome the 200-knot speed limit of most helicopters as a result of a phenomenon called the dissymmetry of lift. It is to fly in 2017 and will be evaluated by the Army for further development. Sikorsky is leading the development of phase one with an aircraft based on their previous Sikorsky X2 design. The design will have a cruise speed of 250 kn (290 mph; 460 km/h), but less range due to using the “old” T55 engine. A new engine (the future affordable turbine engine (FATE) like on the V-280) would meet the range requirement of 229 nmi (264 mi; 424 km) Compared to conventional helicopters, the counter-rotating coaxial main rotors and pusher propeller offer a 185 km/h (115 mph) speed increase, combat radius extended by 60%, and performs 50% better in high-hot hover performance. Sikorsky has said that the X2 design is not suitable for heavy-lift size, and instead suggests the CH-53K for heavy-lift and tiltrotor for the ultra-class. However, Sikorsky plans to build the 30,000 lb-class JMR-TD (with a cabin 50% larger than the Black Hawk) at full scale to remove doubts about the scalability of the X-2 technology.
The SB-1 will be quick and nimble, with fast acceleration and deceleration, side-to-side movement, and hovering with the tail up and nose down. The Defiant demonstrator will be powered by the Honeywell T55, which powers the CH-47 Chinook. It will be slightly modified to better operate at slower speeds down to 85% rpm
The Bell Helicopter design, which is called the V-280 Valor, is an advanced tilt-rotor design that is based upon technology similar to the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey. The new tilt-rotor is smaller, faster and much more maneuverable than the Osprey and has a top speed of over 300 knots. The aircraft was officially unveiled at the 2013 Army Aviation Association of America’s (AAAA) Annual Professional Forum and Exposition in Fort Worth, Texas, with a projected first flight in 2017.
Future Vertical Lift (FVL) is a plan to develop a family of vehicles that will update military helicopter capabilities. Five different sizes of aircraft are to be developed, sharing common hardware such as sensors, avionics, engines, and countermeasures. The precursor for FVL is the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) helicopter program, which will provide technology demonstrations planned for 2017.
Three sizes were planned in 2009, then four and five (which may or may not be of the same design) are envisioned to replace 25 current rotorcraft types:
JMR-Light: Scout version to replace the OH-58 Kiowa; introduction planned for 2030.
JMR-Medium: Utility and attack versions to replace the UH-60 Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache; introduction planned for 2027–28.
JMR-Heavy: Cargo version to replace the CH-47 Chinook; introduction planned for 2035, although Boeing expects 2060.
JMR-Ultra: New ultra-sized version for vertical lift aircraft with performance similar to fixed-wing tactical transport aircraft, such as the C-130J Super Hercules and the Airbus A400M Atlas; introduction planned for 2025.
Bentley said the services have already “developed a broad area of joint trade space.” An example of that would be reducing the number of soldiers or Marines being carried in the medium lift aircraft to add more fuel to extend its range.
“There’s work to do” in looking at “trade space.”
The minimum capability in carrying capacity is eight soldiers or Marines, Barranco said. “This is where the trade space discussion comes in.” Say it can actually carry 11 or 12, “that’s fine. It’s added capability. No less than what we have now.”
That would be similar to the Marines’ experience with the MV-22 with its greater, range, speed and carrying capability replacing the CH-46 Sea Knight .
Having all aircraft linked is “probably our greatest overmatch” even now against potential adversaries, Barranco said. “We need to exploit that.” He added the Marines have begun back-fitting network technologies into its legacy aircraft. It also is seeing how it can better exploit manned-unmanned teaming, an area where the Army is leading the way with its Apache attack helicopter fleet.
“We’re building doctrine for the future” against new and re-emerging threats from near-peer competitors. “As always the future is unknown.”