Written Response: AMRDEC’s Bruce Tenney on the scope, ultimate goals, and approximate timeline of Future Verical Lift
Q. The Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program is currently underway and aims to develop a new generation of vertical lift assets. Can you briefly describe this program, its scope, ultimate goals, and approximate timeline?
Answer: FVL has not yet achieved program status, but it is in the 5th year of activity as a major OSD initiative.
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In essence, FVL is a joint strategic plan, initiated by Congress in 2008, approved by the DepSecDef in 2012, managed by an OSD/Joint Staff/Services Executive Steering Group, with implementation led by Army. The FVL Strategic Plan projects the long-term transformation of the entire DoD rotary wing (RW) fleet through the development of the “next generation” family of systems, across 4 “classes”: Light, Medium, Heavy, and Ultra. The plan recognizes that modernization and upgrades to current aircraft will be insufficient to meet future DoD vertical lift requirements. Central emphasis rests on a joint multi-role approach and commonality. Industry participation takes place through the Vertical Lift Consortium (VLC) which was deliberately established in conjunction with this initiative to improve the strategic planning collaboration between the government and industry.
The Army led the development and JCIDS process for JROC approval of the FVL FoS ICD in April 2013 and it retains lead at present. Activity is now focused on conducting analysis and preparation for a materiel development decision (MDD), unofficially scheduled for the end of FY15, followed by an AoA to be completed in FY17, to support a MS A decision to proceed with acquisition of the FVL-Medium. The current target timeline for FVL-M IOC is ~2034-35.
• The first development within the FVL program is the medium-lift variant. Simultaneously, the Army is conducting the Joint Multirole – Technology Demonstrator program. How does the JMR-TD fit into the larger FVL family? What is the current timeline for JMR?
Answer: JMR-TD is working to bring together the kinds of technology I talked about earlier in the discussion into technology demonstration flight articles. As a Tech Demonstrator, JMR-TD, will show that new aircraft configurations, populated with new technologies and design approaches, can result in a feasible materiel solution for a combination of vehicle performance requirements. It is not a “prototype” program. It won’t select the specific configuration that will be pursued for FVL-M, nor will it set the specifications for the FVL-M. It will, however, greatly inform both.
JMR-TD is on schedule for first flight in FY17 for two test articles. The JMR-TD includes two primary elements. First, and the one most people recognize, is the vehicle performance activity that is ongoing right now with the four industry partners, (AVX, Karem, Bell, and Sikorsky/Boeing). However, there is another effort, funded at a smaller level, which is addressing future mission systems technologies, including the open architecture electronic backbone that supports aircraft and mission systems. The mission systems work is really just now beginning and you will hear more about it in the coming days.
The vehicle development work, commonly referred to as Phase I, is centered around a Model Performance Specification (MPS) that was developed to reflect a set of performance requirements representative of what an FVL-M might entail. At the point it was issued in January of 13, it was our best thinking on what FVL-M might look like. That vision is, of course, changing over time and so the JMR-TD MPS was never expected or advertised as the definition of FVL-M. We took the thinking at the time and stuck a line to use as a litmus test to design aircraft around. At the end of the JMR-TD, we will know how close our projections of a future aircraft come to reality and what technical areas require the most attention in future development work.
The JMR-TD carries a design effort against that MPS. It also is building flight articles that will represent a subset of that MPS design. The combination of flight article, ground tests, and analysis will be the proof, or not, of the MPS designs. We learn a ton of things from this activity that will greatly improve our decision process whenever FVL moves into a real development program.
I should note at this point, that we consider the JMR-TD not uniquely peculiar to FVL-M. We chose the conditions for the JMR-TD such that we believe we learn things that scale to the “light” and “heavy” classes of the FVL family as well. Even some of the technologies will provide us information in support of the “ultra” class. So, although we centered the JMR-TD around a point-in-time thought about the FVL-M, the technology community will be looking to scale as much of the learning we can across the entire family of future vertical lift aircraft. We believe that the JMR-TD fits nicely with the anticipated schedule for FVL. The MPS design activity will support the ongoing FVL analyses in support of a near-term MDD and the actual aircraft development work will prepare us for the Tech Development effort following a MS A decision in FY18. Keeping the JMR-TD fully funded and on track is very important for the FVL activity.
• In your view, what are the prospects for the JMR program in the current budgetary environment?
Answer: I think they are excellent. The senior leadership of the Army and of Army S&T are committed to the JMR-TD. I’m really pleased with the bottom-to-top support I see in the Army for this S&T effort. The only risk I see for the JMR-TD is the risk of the FVL initiative stumbling. FVL is an extensive initiative with lots of moving parts. Anytime you try to take as large an enterprise approach as FVL represents, there are many opportunities for delays and conflict. If FVL were to become fragile or experience a significant delay over that currently planned, the Army could get some “weak knees” in response to extreme budgetary pressures. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon. The Army has really stepped up on the JMR-TD program, and I expect it to hold its ground in the foreseeable future.
It does point out though, that the Army needs to be more than fully engaged with the FVL initiative, the other Services, Joint Staff, and OSD. The Army’s equities here are huge and it is imperative for the senior leadership of the Army to be upfront and visible and leading the charge for FVL.