The Army’s New Recon Chopper Is Beginning To Take Shape

Kyle Mizokami
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

From Popular Mechanics

  • The U.S. Army plans to field a new armed scout helicopter, the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), in the 2030s.
  • Two companies, Lockheed Martin and Bell, will now build prototypes of their FARA aircraft designs.
  • Lockheed Martin and Bell are expected to deliver prototypes in 2023, turning them over to the U.S. Army for testing.

The U.S. Army has selected Lockheed Martin and Bell as finalists to build Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, or FARA. Lockheed’s Raider X (pictured above) will go up against Bell’s 360 Invictus (below). Each company will build one prototype, with the winner chosen in 2023. The service wants to field the armed scout helicopter quickly to fill a critical gap left when the service retired the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior.

Photo credit: Bell

Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft is envisioned as a combination scout/light attack helicopter to support Army helicopter and ground forces. FARA will fly alongside the Army’s AH-65E Apache Guardian attack helicopter, locating and identifying enemy tank formations and other units. Once identified, FARA would call in Apache helicopters armed with Hellfire anti-tank missiles or rocket and artillery strikes to destroy the threat. FARA would also locate and shadow enemy forces it doesn’t help destroy, ensuring Army ground commanders have the latest intel to plot their destruction.

FARA will be a two-person helicopter externally similar to an attack helicopter but smaller, more nimble. The aircraft’s mission will primarily be to locate and observe enemy forces, particularly columns of tanks, geolocating their position and passing on the data to artillery, attack helicopters, ground forces, and fighter jets.

The Army wants an aircraft with long range, enabling it to sweep vast areas of the ground below in its search for the enemy. A small cannon provides self-defense, and FARA will carry anti-tank missiles to take out targets of opportunity. For example, a scout chopper might happen upon an enemy tank battalion and quickly neutralize its mobile air defense armored vehicles, leaving the tanks vulnerable to friendly air power.

Photo credit: JOSE CABEZAS - Getty Images

Defense News reports the has Army selected Lockheed Martin and Bell as finalists, and each will build a flying prototype of their entrant. Lockheed Martin’s entry, designed by subsidiary Sikorsky, is the Raider-X. Raider X uses two contra-rotating main rotor blades and a push propeller. The Bell Invictus retains a more traditional helicopter-style layout, with a main rotor and ducted tail rotor. Both feature a nose-mounted small caliber automatic cannon and anti-tank missiles and other weapons stored on retractable launch pylons. Both appear to use some shaping to reduce their radar signature, though stealth was not on the Army’s list of requirements.

A second video envisions Invictus launching several drones, or what it calls Air Launched Effects. Invictus would use the ALEs to search for, identify, and destroy enemy forces over a wide area without endangering itself. In the scenario above a pair of Invictus choppers locate and destroy a battery of S-400 long-range air defense missiles, with the operation ending with the drones colliding with their targets and detonating explosive warheads.

Lockheed Martin released a similar video for Raider X, one that plays up the heritage of its subsidiary, Sikorsky, in the world of helicopter design.

The two finalist companies are the same ones the Army selected two weeks ago for Future Long Range Assault Aircraft, a program designed to develop the successor to the UH-60 Blackhawk transport helicopter. Lockheed Martin’s Raider-X is very similar in design to the SB-1 Defiant, the company’s offering to replace the Blackhawk. Bell is offering the V-280 Valor tiltrotor as a replacement for the Blackhawk but sticking to a more conventional helicopter design for FARA. This is likely because FARA is meant to get into tight spaces, particularly between skyscrapers in urban environments, and using a side-by-side tiltrotor configuration makes for a wider aircraft.

This is, as Defense News points out, the Army’s third attempt to replace the OH-58D Kiowa warrior scout helicopter. Combined with the threat of lower defense budgets in the 2020s, the Army may choose the cheaper aircraft with lower operating costs, especially if paired with the ability to grow capabilities in the near future.

The Army expects to begin flight evaluations of both designs in late 2023, fielding the first production aircraft in the 2030s.

Source: Defense News

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