Pentagon, Army developing future, next-generation helicopter fleet
December 9, 2011
The Pentagon and the U.S. Army are in the early stages of a far-reaching
Science & Technology (S&T) effort designed to engineer, build and deliver a
next-generation helicopter with vastly improved avionics, electronics,
range, speed, propulsion, survivability, operating density altitudes and
payload capacity, service officials explained.
The Army-led Joint Multi-Role (JMR) program is a broadly-scoped Pentagon
effort, including input, officials and working group members from the Office
of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), other military services, Coast Guard,
Special Operations Command and NASA, among others.
"Our overall philosophy from a program perspective is to leverage what we
are learning from the user communities and establish what technologies will
provide the desired new capability. Right now the Future Vertical Lift
community is working on developing the capabilities document," said Ned
Chase, Chief, Platform Technology Division, Aviation Applied Technology
Directorate (AATD), and S&T Lead for the JMR Technology Demonstrator
Building a helicopter able to sustain speeds in excess of 170 knots, achieve
an overall combat range greater than 800 kilometers (combat radius of 424
kilometers) and hover with a full
combat load under high/hot conditions (altitudes of 6,000 feet and
95-degrees F) are among the many capabilities sought after for the JMR.
Plans for the next-generation aircraft also include having a degree of
autonomous flight capability or being "optionally manned," successful
weapons integration and compatibility, a core common architecture in terms
of next-generation electronics, sensors and on-board avionics,
manned-unmanned teaming ability and shipboard compatibility.
"We're trying to create a vision," Chase said, referring to the effort to
harness technological innovation with a mind to looking beyond current force
technology and identifying possible next-generation solutions in a range of
areas such as propulsion, airframe materials, rotor systems, engine
technology, survivability equipment and Mission Systems, among others.
The JMR program, which seeks to begin designing several "demonstrator"
aircraft by 2013 and conduct a first flight in 2017 as a series of first
steps toward developing a next-generation fleet of helicopters, is a subset
of the Pentagon's Joint Future Vertical Lift (JFVL) effort squarely aimed at
exploring emerging technologies and best identifying the realm of the
possible with respect to future aircraft and helicopter capabilities.The DoD
plans to begin fielding a new fleet of next-generation helicopters by 2030.
"The JMR Program is a key part of our strategy to modernize vertical lift
capability long term. With current budget pressures, it is critical that a
strong Industry-Government-Academia team be fleshing out the technology
enablers in integrated relevant contexts to establish a solid case for both
the operational and fiscal benefits of these advanced aircraft. This team
will be leveraging not only lessons learned from recent conflicts, but a
broad spectrum of Army and DoD basic and applied research investments made
in areas which include: engine and driveline efficiency and cost reduction,
advanced materials including polymeric and metal matrix composites,
sensor/weapon/other payload integration cost reduction, and very high
performance aerodynamic and reliability modeling and simulation. These
investments position us well for risk and cost reduction in our vertical
lift endeavors," said Army Chief Scientist Dr. Scott Fish.
Planned missions sets for the JMR include cargo, utility, armed scout,
attack, humanitarian assistance, MEDEVAC, anti-submarine warfare,
anti-surface warfare, land/sea search and rescue, special warfare support,
vertical replenishment, airborne mine countermeasures, and others, according
a Nov. 9 Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator Phase 2 Mission Systems
Demonstration Request for Information (RFI).
The JMR Technology Demonstrator effort is broken down into two distinct,
measurable phases; phase one includes an 18-month Configuration and Trades
Analysis (CT&A) designed to explore technological possibilities for a new
platform or Air Vehicle. Phase one also includes the design, fabrication and
test of several demonstrator aircraft, Chase explained.
Phase two will be focused on trade studies and the development of Mission
Systems. The idea is to build several "Technology Demonstrator" helicopters
as a method of refining and informing the requirements for the new aircraft,
requirements which will likely evolve and change as technologies mature and
emerge over time.
The over-arching JFVL efforts span a range of four classes of future
aircraft, ranging from light helicopters to medium and heavy lift variants
and an ultra-class category designed to build a new fleet of super-heavy
lift aircraft. The ultra-class aircraft will be designed to lift, transport
and maneuver large vehicles around the battlefield such as Strykers and Mine
Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles. The ultra-class variant,
described as a C-130 type of transport aircraft, is part of an Air Force
led, Army-Air Force collaborative S&T effort called Joint Future Theater
The JFVL effort, which includes both the JMR acquisition program as well as
the JMR Technology Demonstrator effort, is designed to incorporate findings
from a series of OSD-led studies and analyses on Future Vertical Lift
directed by the Secretary of Defense in 2009, including a Rotorcraft
Survivability Study, a Capabilities Based Assessment, an S&T plan and a
The JMR S&T effort, led by the Army's Aviation and Missile Research,
Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC), Redstone Arsenal, Ala., has
awarded "concept trade and analysis" deals with four industry teams tasked
with examining the set of attributes, designs and technologies needed to
build a new, more capable attack or utility helicopter, said Dave Weller,
Science and Technology Manager, Program Executive Office -- Aviation.
"The real focus of JMR is to get at the three major tenets: improve the
performance, improve the survivability and significantly reduce the
operating cost. The next-generation aircraft will have to be a whole lot
less expensive to operate than the current fleet," Weller added. "Also, a
big issue is increasing reliability and shortening the supply chain to get
the logistical benefits of commonality of parts. When we did an adjunct
capability based assessment done to identify gaps - we came up with some 55
gap areas. The number one gap was reliability."
While the JMR program includes the exploration of light, medium and heavy
lift helicopter variants, the effort will initially focus on medium lift
The Army' s Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD), Fort Eustis,
Va., (AATD), which leads the execution of the tech-demo effort on behalf of
AMRDEC, awarded 18-month Technology Investment Agreements to Boeing, a
Bell-Boeing team, Sikorsky and a 15-month contract to the AVX Corporation;
the first phase of the process will be for the government and its industry
partners to conduct analytical studies and trade assessments designed to
articulate the scope of what might be technically possible. These initial
findings will help inform the specifications to describe the rotorcraft
demonstrator vehicles which will then be built.
"Right now the plan is to go through the first phase to define what the
state of the possible would be, followed by a down-select to build two
demonstrators. The idea is to identify, develop and demonstrate the best
trade solution that covers the attribute matrix. The government is doing the
same kind of analysis that industry is doing, so we plan to compare our
results," Weller explained.
Initial results from these efforts are due by the end of next year, Weller
"We're doing these trade studies to figure out the best way to optimize
aircraft. We are working very closely with our user committees who have
identified the types of capabilities they would like these future aircraft
to have," Chase added.
Building a new aircraft from the ground up is part of an overall strategic
effort to harness the best new technologies, allow for the platform to be
upgraded as new technologies emerge, integrate systems into a common
architecture and, perhaps most of all, drive down costs.
Affordability is the utmost priority with the JMR effort, Chase and Weller
"It is envisioned that some of these novel ideas may not only drive down the
acquisition cost, but also allow much easier and cheaper incorporation of
upgrades to the aircraft and its systems," the JMR RFI documents state.
With these Configuration Trades and Analysis studies, Army S&T has taken the
lead in exploring the operational benefit and technical feasibility of
advanced vertical lift air vehicles, working in concert with the Army's
acquisition and requirements communities, said Mac Dinning, AMRDEC Aviation
Liaison, ASA ALT.
"While this program is currently wholly funded by the Army, other Services
are actively participating to define and develop a Joint Service Air Vehicle
system that might replace the existing Blackhawk/Seahawk and Apache medium
fleet Aircraft," Dinning said.
PHASE I - Air Vehicle
The goal of the JMR S&T program is to leverage the S&T needed to
successfully influence the development of a program of record, Weller
explained. The program plans to have an approved initial capabilities
document by April 2013.
The areas of S&T focus on the JMR Technology Demonstrator program span a
wide spectrum of emerging technologies from composite materials to
electronics and various rotor configurations designed to increase speed
without compromising hover ability, Weller said.
For example, one of several existing "compound helicopter" technologies
under examination is the potential use of a coaxial rotor system. With this
technology, the idea is to place auxiliary propulsion technologies or
"thrusting" devices at the back end of the aircraft to provide extra speed,
Another example of these so-called configurations is to build a helicopter
which utilizes two turbo-shaft engines and two small fixed-wings on each
side of the aircraft fitted with a pusher- propeller for extra propulsion.
Also under examination is the potential use of tilt-rotor aircraft
technology such as that currently used for the V22 Osprey; with this design,
the aircraft can reach high speeds in airplane mode and then maintain its
ability to hover successfully in helicopter mode.
"When you develop capability like these, however, you give up some hover
ability. A main focus of the research is to look at ways of increasing speed
without sacrificing the ability to hover," Weller said. "Part of the Science
and Technology program is to look at different configurations."
One of the options being taken up through this effort is the exploration of
multi-speed transmission capability, a unique configuration designed to
increase speed while avoiding the aerodynamic phenomenon of transonic shock,
"All of the helicopters we develop now are built with a single speed
transmission. We are looking at how we can leverage technology and put in a
multi-speed capability," he said.
In addition, the new Air Vehicle may contain composite materials and or
items now in development, Chase explained.
"We are exploring how to get the most efficiency out of the new structure
that we can. One way to do that may be by using composite materials," he
Increasing Air Vehicle speed can shorten the response time for these
extended missions or combat radius, a critical necessity for saving lives
through MEDEVAC operations, and getting supplies such as food, water and
ammo to forward positioned forces, Dinning explained.
"Current helicopter systems are designed to operate for approximately two
hours without refueling. Typical cruise speeds of 140 knots limit the range
that these aircraft can operate in. Short of off-loading payload (troops,
weapons, cargo) to add extra fuel bladders, extended range operations must
rely on Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARPs), where fuel and
armaments are pre-positioned. The Army recognizes the need to reduce the
manned footprint of these forward operation positions," Dinning said.
Non-linear, asymmetric or counterinsurgency-type environments such as the
current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan underscore the need to reduce the
risks associated with having deployed units travel to potentially hostile
pre-positioned locations to set up FARPs, he added.
Phase 1 will be followed by a Phase 2 extensive Mission Systems and Aircraft
Survivability Equipment (ASE) S&T developmental effort.