WASHINGTON — Soldiers may get to operate the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft sooner than expected.
The service awarded the $1.3 billion FLRAA contract to Texas-based Bell Textron after a lengthy testing process that spanned years, Army officials announced on Dec. 5.
FLRAA is a tiltrotor aircraft that has the hybrid capabilities of planes and helicopters. When fielded, it will replace a portion of the UH-60 Black Hawk fleet which has served as the Army’s utility and tactical transport helicopter since 1979.
The contract includes an initial obligation of $232 million spread over a 19-month period, said Joseph Giunta, senior contracting official for Army Contracting Command-Redstone Arsenal on Dec. 5.
During that timeframe, the agreement will allow the Army to continue preliminary design as well as the development and delivery of virtual prototypes of the aircraft, said Maj. Gen. Robert Barrie, program executive officer for aviation at Redstone Arsenal, Ala. The obligation does not include the production of physical aircraft.
“[This is] really a significant milestone and a very important capability that we look forward to bringing to the Army,” Barrie said while speaking with reporters.
The Army chose the Bell proposal over the Sikorsky-Boeing proposal to fulfill one of the service’s top modernization priorities, future vertical lift. Under the contract, the service expects to deliver a physical prototype of the FLRAA in 2025.
Maj. Gen. Walter Rugen, Future Vertical Lift Cross Functional Team director, said that the Army accelerated the FLRAA capability by four years.
Doug Bush, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology added that partnerships with industry as well as new authorities granted by Congress helped expedite the fielding process for a capability that will accelerate the branch’s goal of building the Army of 2030.
“We have taken new authorities from Congress. We have melded them with a very thoughtful, very deliberate approach … to allow us to move at speed — greater speed than originally planned to get this capability in the hands of Soldiers,” Bush said.
The service began the FLRAA program in 2019 to upgrade and replace part of its assault and utility helicopter fleet.
“We were obviously going to [choose] in a disciplined and deliberate fashion,” Barrie said. “But we wanted to do it as fast we could for all the reasons that we need this capability in the field. So, we are confident that the process we went through was disciplined and deliberate.”
During the competitive demonstration and risk reduction efforts, Bell’s V-280 Valor, a joint multi-role technology demonstrator, logged more than 200 flight hours. To help inform the requirements, the Army conducted more than 20 Soldier touchpoints with infantry and medevac Soldiers and pilots. Army experimental test pilots and U.S. Naval Test Pilot School graduates performed test and engineering flights of both the Valor and the Defiant, Sikorsky-Boeing’s joint multi-role technology demonstrator.
The new aircraft will extend the reach of U.S. forces’ air assault missions while enabling ground forces to conduct de-centralized operations at farther distances. The aircraft will provide greater speed, range and survivability. Barrie said the Army went with a “best value” approach in selecting the Black Hawk’s successor.
Although Army officials declined to discuss specifics of why the service chose the Bell Textron proposal, the service previously outlined requirements for the FLRAA capability during a January 2020 demonstration.
Those requirements included the ability to soar at 6,000 feet in high temperatures with up to 12 passengers while also being able to travel for more than 1,700 nautical miles without refueling.
Army announces Future Long Range Assault Aircraft contract award