The U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program remains a top priority as the military branch moves rapidly toward modernization. Headed up by the Army Futures Command (AFC), FVL aims to replace the Army’s aging fleet of helicopters with next-generation aircraft, including a new future attack and reconnaissance aircraft (FARA) and future long-range assault aircraft (FLRAA).
Developing these aircraft, so far, has been swift and successful, thanks to the Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR TD) program, which is essentially an industry competition that allows companies, like Bell, to develop the next-generation technology alongside the Army.
Earlier this month, military leaders, defense experts and industry professionals from across the U.S. convened in Virginia for back-to-back military aviation conferences discussing the future of FVL, the progress of the AFC since its inception just over one year ago, and many other updates in military aviation research, procurement and sustainment. Leaders from Bell, which has been shortlisted for the JMR TD program with its eminent V-280 Valor tiltrotor aircraft, joined the panel discussions at both conferences – first, the 2019 Defense News Conference on Sept. 4, followed by the AUSA Army Aviation Hot Topic on Sept. 5.
Bell Executive Vice President of Military Business Vince Tobin took the stage at the Defense News Conference in Pentagon City. There, he joined AFC Gen. John M. Murray and AFC Brig. Gen. Richard “Ross” Coffman and AFC Brig. Gen. Walter T. Rugen in a discussion about the AFC and its progress since it was first introduced to the Army approximately one year ago.
“At this time last year, I think we had 13 people on the ground in Austin,” said Gen. Murray, the first commanding general of the AFC. “Right now, . . . we're a little over 25,000.”
Aside from its overwhelming growth, the AFC is also forging new paths with industry leaders to create new and faster ways of developing and deploying new technologies. Brig. Gen. Coffman, who’s the director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team (CFT) at Detroit Arsenal in Warren, Michigan, noted the achievements that have taken place this past year. “We've saved about two-and-a-half years off the requirements’ writing and approval,” he said. “That's the basis of Army Futures Command: pulling people together, moving faster through communication. And I like to say that the magic of both the CFT and AFC is communication.”
Brig. Gen. Rugen, director of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift Cross Functional Team in Huntsville, Alabama, echoed Coffman’s sentiment and expanded on the progress of his own team.
“I've been amazed with the team and how well they've done with some really hard work across aligning our S and T [science and technology], getting our requirements completed in record time, getting a number of contract actions in place and then really being aggressive on our modeling and experimentation,” Brig. Gen. Rugen said. “Across our four lines of effort for future attack reconnaissance aircraft . . . we look forward to industry submissions in January and then we'll be down selecting in March to competitive prototype vendors for a competition fly-off in 2023.”
The following day, in Arlington, Bell Vice President of Vertical Lift Systems Keith Flail joined a panel of experts at the AUSA Army Aviation Hot Topic symposium, again discussing the Army’s FVL program and the fact that it is moving forward quickly and effectively.
“From an industry standpoint, hats off to the Army in terms of the pace of FARA and FLRAA,” Keith Flail said. “Why I think you see some of the things happen at the pace that they are . . . is because the Army has had the foresight to go back, in the 2012, 2013 timeframe, and really kick this thing off.”
Brig. Gen. Rugen double-downed on Flail’s comments. “I just applaud the industry-government team for having the guts six years ago to do it in full scale,” he said.
And that partnership between the Army and industry has proven successful.
Under the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR TD), the Army will develop its FVL program. The JMR TD has brought leaders from both sides together in an unprecedented arrangement to develop next-generation aircraft.
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