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Marines, Army Studying Vertical Lift Technology Advancements Ahead of New Programs

Artist's concepts of the Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant (above) and the Bell-Lockheed Martin V280 Valor.

Artist’s concepts of the Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant (above) and the Bell-Lockheed Martin V280 Valor.

As both the Marine Corps, Army and the Navy are looking to the next generation of vertical lift, potential adversaries are forcing the services’ to move their support facilities further and further away from the forward line of combatants, the head of Marine rotorcraft requirements told a Washington audience Friday.

Col. John Barranco, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, those restrictions put new emphasis on speed, range, payload, survivability and sustainability for aircraft that are projected to be entering the fleet in the early 2030s. They would replace Bell UH-1 Yankees Venom and Bell AH-1 Zulus Viper.

“We have to think [through] those five things carefully,” Army Col. David Phillips, director of Rotary Wing at Special Operations Command, said.

Col. Erskine Bentley, the head of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift program, said with increased lethality the new aircraft “gives us maneuverability and agility” on the future battlefield. ‘We’re just scratching the surface “in the very long investment in [science and technology]” that is looking at open architecture and inserting advanced technologies as apps into future vertical lift.

At this stage, “we should look at the technologies of tomorrow,” but “keep our operators involved” as it progresses,” Phillips said. The goal for Special Operations Command is to have an “all-weather, in all environments” aircraft. “We have to be able to execute our missions when the enemy least expects it.”

“This is a multi-service project,” led by the Army with involvement by the Marine Corps and Special Operations Command. Barranco distinguished that approach from the joint effort to produce the F-35 strike fighter. But “we’ve tried to take some lessons learned from there” in the design, testing, production and fielding, including commonality of parts, etc. That could lead to one service being able to repair another’s aircraft.

He added, “It’s probably a wrong assumption” to believe that cost constraints will not continue to remain in place as the program evolves.

Bentley said the services have already “developed a broad area of joint trade space.” An example of that would be reducing the number of soldiers or Marines being carried in the medium lift aircraft to add more fuel to extend its range.

“There’s work to do” in looking at “trade space.”

The minimum capability in carrying capacity is eight soldiers or Marines, Barranco said. “This is where the trade space discussion comes in.” Say it can actually carry 11 or 12, “that’s fine. It’s added capability. No less than what we have now.”

That would be similar to the Marines’ experience with the MV-22 with its greater, range, speed and carrying capability replacing the CH-46 Sea Knight .

Having all aircraft linked is “probably our greatest overmatch” even now against potential adversaries, Barranco said. “We need to exploit that.” He added the Marines have begun back-fitting network technologies into its legacy aircraft. It also is seeing how it can better exploit manned-unmanned teaming, an area where the Army is leading the way with its Apache attack helicopter fleet.

“We’re building doctrine for the future” against new and re-emerging threats from near-peer competitors. “As always the future is unknown.”

Barranco and the others said the commitment to future vertical lift remains strong within their services. “We all know we have to advance our capabilities,” he said.

“It’s about having something in the pipe” to meet future challenges, Bentley said, and retaining balance with the existing fleet of aircraft.