Pentagon, Army Developing Next-Generation Helicopter Fleet

By January 9, 2012September 24th, 2018General, Science and Technology
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By Kris Osborn

AMRDEC conceptual renderings of potential future JMR configurations. (U.S. Army images by AMRDEC.)

The Pentagon and the Army are in the early stages of a far-reaching science and technology (S&T) effort to engineer, build, and deliver a next-generation helicopter with vastly improved avionics, electronics, range, speed, propulsion, survivability, operating density altitudes, and payload capacity. In a series of five articles, Access AL&T looks in detail at what this program is intended to accomplish and how industry is contributing.

The Army-led Joint Multi-Role (JMR) program is a broadly scoped Pentagon endeavor representing the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), the military services, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Special Operations Command, and NASA, among others. The goal of the JMR S&T demonstrator program is to leverage the S&T needed to successfully design and engineer a new Air Vehicle and influence the development of a program of record, service officials explained.

“Our overall philosophy, from a program perspective, is to leverage what we are learning from the user communities and establish what technologies will provide the desired new capability. Right now the Future Vertical Lift community is working on developing the capabilities document,” said Ned Chase, Chief, Platform Technology Division, Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD), Fort Eustis, VA, and S&T Lead for the JMR Technology Demonstrator Program. AATD is an element of the U.S. Army Aviation & Missile Research, Development, and Engineering Center (AMRDEC), Redstone Arsenal, AL.

Sustained speeds in excess of 170 knots, an overall combat range greater than 800 kilometers (with a combat radius of 424 kilometers), and hovering with a full combat load under high and/or hot conditions (at an altitude of 6,000 feet and a temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit) are among the many capabilities sought for the JMR.

Plans for the next-generation aircraft also include a degree of autonomous flight capability, or being “optionally manned”; successful weapons integration and compatibility; a core common architecture in terms of next-generation electronics, sensors, and onboard avionics; manned-unmanned teaming; and shipboard compatibility.

“We’re trying to create a vision,” Chase said, by looking beyond current force technology and identifying possible next-generation solutions in a variety of areas including propulsion, airframe materials, rotor systems, engine technology, survivability equipment, and mission systems, among others.

The JMR program seeks an approved initial capabilities document and to begin designing several demonstrator aircraft by 2013, then to conduct a first flight in 2017. The program is part of the Pentagon’s Joint Future Vertical Lift (JFVL) effort, aimed at identifying the realm of the possible in future aircraft and helicopter capabilities. DoD plans to begin fielding a new fleet of next-generation helicopters by 2030.

“The JMR Program is a key part of our strategy to modernize vertical lift capability long-term. With current budget pressures, it is critical that a strong industry-government-academia team be fleshing out the technology enablers in integrated, relevant contexts to establish a solid case for both the operational and fiscal benefits of these advanced aircraft,” said Army Chief Scientist Dr. Scott Fish.

“This team will be leveraging not only lessons learned from recent conflicts, but a broad spectrum of Army and DoD basic and applied research investments made in areas which include: engine and driveline efficiency and cost reduction, advanced materials including polymeric and metal matrix composites, sensor/weapon/other payload integration cost reduction, and very-high-performance aerodynamic and reliability modeling and simulation. These investments position us well for risk and cost reduction in our vertical lift endeavors,” Fish said.

Planned mission sets for the JMR include cargo, utility, armed scout, attack, humanitarian, medical evacuation, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, land/sea search and rescue, special warfare support, vertical replenishment, and airborne mine countermeasures.

The JMR Technology Demonstrator effort has two distinct, measurable phases.

Phase 1 includes an 18-month configuration and trades analysis (CT&A) designed to explore technological possibilities for a new platform or Air Vehicle. It also includes the design, fabrication, and test of several demonstrator aircraft. Phase 2 will focus on trade studies and the development of mission systems.

The idea is to build several technology demonstrator helicopters as a way of refining and informing the requirements for the new aircraft, requirements that are likely to evolve as technologies mature and emerge.

“Our overall philosophy, from a program perspective, is to leverage what we are learning from the user communities and establish what technologies will provide the desired new capability. Right now the Future Vertical Lift community is working on developing the capabilities document.”

While the JMR program initially will focus on medium-lift options, the overarching JFVL efforts span four classes of future aircraft, including light, medium, and heavy lift variants, and an ultra-class category designed for a new fleet of super-heavy lift aircraft. The ultra-class aircraft, described as a C-130 type of transport aircraft, will lift, transport, and maneuver large vehicles around the battlefield, such as Strykers and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. It is part of an Army-Air Force collaborative S&T effort, led by the Air Force, called Joint Future Theater Lift.

The JFVL effort, which includes both the JMR acquisition program and the JMR Technology Demonstrator effort, is designed to incorporate findings from a series of OSD-led studies and analyses on future vertical lift directed by the Secretary of Defense in 2009, including a Rotorcraft Survivability Study, a Capabilities Based Assessment, an S&T plan, and a strategic plan.

“We’re doing these trade studies to figure out the best way to optimize aircraft. We are working very closely with our user committees, who have identified the types of capabilities they would like these future aircraft to have,” Chase added.

Building a new aircraft from the ground up is part of an overall strategic effort to harness the best new technologies, allow for the platform to be upgraded as new technologies emerge, integrate systems into a common architecture, and, perhaps most important, drive down costs. The idea is that some of these novel ideas may not only drive down the acquisition cost, but also allow much easier and cheaper incorporation of upgrades to the aircraft and its systems.

With a clean-sheet design, it may be possible to incorporate from the beginning new technologies, new concepts, new processes, or even old ones that could not win their way onto fielded platforms.

With the CT&A studies, Army S&T has taken the lead in exploring the operational benefit and technical feasibility of advanced vertical lift air vehicles, working in concert with the Army’s acquisition and requirements communities, said Mac Dinning, AMRDEC Aviation Liaison to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology.

“While this program is currently wholly funded by the Army, other services are actively participating to define and develop a Joint Service Air Vehicle system that might replace the existing Black Hawk/Seahawk and Apache medium fleet aircraft,” Dinning said.

NEXT: Industry Teams at Work on JMR

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  • KRIS OSBORN is a Highly Qualified Expert for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology Office of Strategic Communications. He holds a B.A. in English and political science from Kenyon College and an M.A. in comparative literature from Columbia University.

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