The US Army has selected Bell and Sikorsky to build prototype aircraft for its Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) programme to replace the army’s AH-65 Apache and OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters.

The two companies beat Boeing, Karem, and a joint AVX Aircraft-L3 Harris team to reach the second phase of the competition to further design and test FARA prototypes. Both companies’ aircraft will go rotor-to-rotor in a government fly-off no later than in 2023.

The US Army wants FARA to fill a capability gap and provide an aircraft capable of operating in complex environments and areas with degraded communications and networks, or areas protected with advanced air-defence systems.

The US Army’s aerial fleet does not have any dedicated aircraft for armed reconnaissance or light attack and since the retirement of OH-58D Kiowa Warriors has been using AH-65 Apache helicopters to fill in this role.

FARA’s small platform size is designed to help the chosen aircraft hide in radar clutter in contested areas while carrying improved stand-off capabilities.

US Army Futures Command commander General John Murray said: “Our focus is on delivering capability for our soldiers at the speed of relevance.

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“We’re doing that here, providing opportunities for our industry partners to design, test, and build capability alongside our soldiers to ensure that we win on a future battlefield.”

The prototypes will be built under Other Transaction Authority for Prototype (OTAP) agreements initially handed to the five bidding companies in April 2019.

Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Dr Bruce Jette said: “The Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft is the Army’s number one aviation modernisation priority and is integral to effectively penetrate and dis-integrate adversaries’ Integrated Air Defence Systems.

“It will enable combatant commanders with greater tactical, operational and strategic capabilities through significantly increased speed, range, endurance, survivability and lethality.”

This phase of the competition follows a year-long period of design and risk-reduction work.

Bell president and CEO Mitch Snyder said: “The selection of the Bell 360 Invictus to continue in the FARA programme builds on our decades-long legacy as an innovator in reconnaissance rotorcraft supporting the manoeuvre force.

“Our team has applied innovative thinking with tested technology to give the Army a low-risk option to fulfil its requirements on an aggressive schedule.”

Bell says the 360 Invictus is designed to optimise ‘performance, connectivity, sustainability, and reliability for soldiers to fight and operate in multi-domain operations’. The rotorcraft uses fly-by-wire and an articulated rotor which Bell says means its entrant ‘is expected to meet or exceed the Army’s requirements’.

Bell has also partnered with Collins Aerospace on its bid to provide ‘cyber-hardened’ advanced avionics hardware and software. Bell is using a ‘digital design-as-built process’ to develop its FARA solution, Bell says this will help the team stay on-track and on-budget.

Bell vice president of Advanced Vertical Lift Systems Keith Flail said: “The Bell 360 Invictus will help the army achieve and sustain overmatch against competitors with its new attack and reconnaissance capabilities.

“Our aircraft builds on Bell’s legacy of providing ultra-reliable scout rotorcraft by keeping our aircraft affordable with an emphasis on simplifying processes to achieve a sustainable and maintainable aircraft for the warfighters.”

Sikorsky Future Vertical Lift vice president Andy Adams said: “We are honoured the army selected our game-changing X2 Technology for Phase 2 of the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) Competitive Prototype (CP) programme.

“Building on the 40+ year legacy Sikorsky has supporting Army front-line missions, we look forward to continuing this trusted partnership.”

Sikorsky will now mature its Raider X design in the build-up to manufacturing a prototype ahead of a range of flight-trials and the government fly-off. Sikorsky says the Raider X offers the US Army increased reach, survivability, lethality, sustainment, and ‘growth and mission’ flexibility.

Adams added: “Through our mature S-97 Raider technology demonstrator, we continue to optimise our FARA solution, which will provide the Army with an integrated weapon system that combines speed, range, manoeuvrability, survivability and operational flexibility.

“This approach is driving down risk and will result in an aircraft solution that is capable of executing the Army’s joint all-domain operations. With tremendous growth potential, Raider X will give the manoeuvre commander and Army aviators the vertical lift dominance required to defeat ever-evolving threats for decades to come.”