Written Response: AMRDEC’s Bruce Tenney on the consequences if the FVL program is not fully endorsed and sustained

APR 7, 2014

Q: What are the consequences if the FVL program is not fully endorsed and sustained over the long run.

Answer: As noted earlier, FVL is in its 5th year of activity. If it fails, those 5 years of work are lost and a re-start is unlikely for at least 5 years after its demise.

But, the prospective failure of FVL should be viewed in a larger context. The first element of the larger context is the fact that the FVL initiative is the 4th joint effort in the last 15 years to attempt to establish a developmental pathway for “next generation” RW aircraft. Obviously, the three previous attempts failed. Why has this happened?

Those failures rest on common ground. The primary reason for the failures is the absence of high-level Departmental advocacy that is institutionally sustainable over the long term. Both of these factors – high-level advocacy and institutional sustainability – are key.

The second reason is that the DoD rotorcraft fleet is a divided family. Although all Services, SOCOM, and the Coast Guard possess rotorcraft, requirements and the timing of needs are different. As a result, it is difficult to define sets of capabilities that satisfactorily meet the requirements of all the potential users of a particular class of aircraft. In the past, the path of least resistance to meet individual Service requirements has most often been to pursue separate programs of record. Once those separate PORs are in place, they themselves become obstacles to joint initiatives, since no Service wants to see its acquisition programs (which meet current requirements) decremented or delayed as a means of funding joint programs that will not bear fruit until well into the future.

Finally, as the majority owner of the DoD fleet, the Army is the Service that has the greatest overall need for and can expect the most significant benefits from new RW aircraft starts. Upgrading its fleet represents a major acquisition program(s) over an extended period of time. In contrast, even though helicopters fill important roles for the Air Force, Navy, and USMC, moving to “next generation” RW technology will often be viewed as significantly less important than maintaining and improving fixed wing aircraft and ship-building. The Army will always have the most skin in the game and the most to gain; other joint stakeholders, in contrast, can generally be expected to be less invested in the outcome of an initiative like FVL or its predecessors.

Returning to the question of consequences, then, we can say confidently that the demise of the FVL initiative would:

• Return the developmental approach to a one that is Service-centric and more likely to perpetuate the current practice of upgrades and modernization, rather than seek new starts based on new configurations and technological innovation.

• Ensure that the DoD and private sector RW technology communities stagnate further, further degrading US technological standing comparative to others, and possibly leading to tech overmatch in this key area.

• Severely constrain the Army ability to operationalize and execute its future concept of expeditionary, distributed operations until well beyond 2035.

These consequences appear to be sufficiently severe to warrant extraordinary efforts to avoid them. At the very least, the Department should ensure that an effective funding stream continues to flow into the JMR TD activities to enable the maturation of the technologies needed to move from conventional helicopters to more advanced designs.