By David Vergun, Army News ServiceMarch 27, 2018
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The upgraded AH-64 Apache, UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters have provided the Army with overmatch capability for a number of years -- but going into the future, this advantage may not continue to be a sure thing, said the Army's vice chief of staff.
As disruptive technologies emerge and adversaries adopt them, the Army is going to need a family of affordable Future Vertical Lift aircraft to replace its current fleet, said Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James C. McConville, who spoke March 27 during the Association of the U.S. Army's Global Force Symposium and Exposition.
While the Army's current fleet has served it well, McConville said he hopes to see the day when those helicopters are remembered the same as venerable aircraft such as the AH-1 Cobra and UH-1 Huey: they are retired from flight, and placed atop pedestals at Army installations.
Besides leap-ahead capabilities in range, speed, maneuverability and survivability, McConville said FVL "needs to be in line with what we're paying now" for the current fleet of helicopters in terms of procurement, sustainment and maintainability.
One of the most important ways the Army intends to achieve these goals is through the unity of effort provided by the FVL Cross-Functional Team. That team is one of eight now spearheading the pursuit of the Army's six modernization priorities. Eventually, all eight teams will align under the Army Futures Command, which is expected to stand up this summer.
The FVL CFT is bringing together the requirements and acquisition communities, along with industry and other partners, to explore the art of the possible. Together, McConville said, they are coming up with the most optimal and affordable solutions for FVL.
One goal for the CFT, McConville said, is for industry and government to come up with compatibility standards, such as for hardware and software, so small industries that don't normally do defense work will be able to offer their own innovative solutions.
Another approach, he said, is to allow an 80 or 90 percent solution to be good enough, rather than push on to pursue the more difficult to obtain, more costly "gold-plated requirements." As new technologies emerge, McConville said, they could then be incorporated in a modular plug-and-play design.
The goal for the FVL CFT, and for all eight of the CFTs, McConville said, is to get new capabilities into the hands of Soldiers more quickly for testing and eventual fielding.
Finally, the vice chief said that in his discussions with senior leaders in industry, he sees emerging technologies in artificial intelligence, machine learning and autonomous decision making playing a critical role in the development of FVL.
However, he said that even as autonomous, unmanned systems develop, there would always be a person in the loop to make decisions using the critical thinking skills and moral judgment that humans do better than machines.