Officials Tout Commonality, Open Architecture in Future Vertical Lift Effort
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — Representatives of the Defense Department-industry team working closely on the complex and expensive quest for a future family of multimission, vertical-lift aircraft for all the armed services emphasized July 25 the need to start with agreed standards and open architecture systems to ensure the aircraft are affordable, survivable, reliable, sustainable and easy to upgrade.
Officials from airframe and mission systems producers and the Pentagon acquisition office said the government-industry coordination and the consensus on designing from the start for cheap and rapid future upgrades represented a new paradigm for defense procurement that was required for the constant changes in technology and threats.
“If you get the investment upfront in reliability, sustainability, so you are able to spend your money quickly on upgrades, that’s the paradigm we seek,” said Marine Col. Robert Freeland, a vertical-lift specialist in the Undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) forum.
Keith Fail, vice president for advanced tiltrotor systems at Bell Helicopter, called the Joint Multirole Demonstrator, which is one part of the comprehensive Future Vertical Lift (FVL) effort, an “unprecedented” move in risk reduction. It will help define the requirements for FVL and involves “hundreds of millions of dollars” in investments by the industry partners that was “burning down the risk” and moving “to get new capability to the warfighters faster.”
Fail said Bell’s concept for the demonstrator program, a substantial upgrade of the Bell-Boeing MV-22 tiltrotor, will fly later this year.
Richard Koucheravy, director of future vertical-lift programs at Sikorsky Helicopters, said the demonstrator program “is a great opportunity for us to explore ideas that can get an aircraft with greater payload, speed and range.”
Sikorsky, a part of Lockheed Martin, is producing a “compound helicopter,” which has twin counter-rotating rotors and a pusher propeller, for the demonstration.
Another part of the overall FVL effort is the mission systems demonstration, which involves firms such as Harris Corp., Rockwell Collins and Northrop Grumman, which also were represented at the CSIS forum. All of the officials on the panel are retired or, in Freeland’s case, current military helicopter pilots.
The FVL program is intended to produce a variety of vertical-lift platforms that could replace virtually all of the U.S. military’s legacy aircraft, with utility, troop transport, attack and armed scout variants of various sizes. The primary advocates for FVL are the Army and Marine Corps, but the Navy and Air Force also are cooperating.
The Army’s and Marines’ main operational requirements are greater speed, range and survivability on the future complex battlefields.
But the dominant thrust of the FVL effort is designing from the start for the maximum commonality of components and ease of production that would reduce acquisition costs, and the sustainability, reliability and ease of modernization that would sharply cut life-cycle costs, which constitute two-thirds of the total program cost of a weapon system.
To achieve those cost-savings features, the panelist stressed getting right at the start the “backbone” or basic architecture of the aircraft, and the interfaces that would allow use of different types of avionics for various missions and the open electronic architecture that permits rapid insertion of either hardware or software to adopt for new technology or threats.
Open architecture also can entice smaller firms to offer components because there are no locked-in proprietary systems controlled by the large defense companies, the officials said.
“Open architecture is critical,” said David Dowling of Northrop, because “the government-industry team requires a nimbleness we haven’t had before.”
Freeland said the FVL backbone would be “government guided, but from industry,” with open architecture and the interfaces in place. “Once you create that open environment, innovation takes over.”