US Army developing next-generation helicopter

WASHINGTON — The Pen­ta­gon and the U.S. Army are in the ear­ly stages of a far-reach­ing Sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy effort designed to engi­neer, build and deliv­er a next-gen­er­a­tion heli­copter with vast­ly improved avion­ics, elec­tron­ics, range, speed, propul­sion, sur­viv­abil­i­ty, oper­at­ing den­si­ty alti­tudes and pay­load capac­i­ty, ser­vice offi­cials said.

Con­cep­tu­al graph­ic illus­tra­tion of a poten­tial future Joint Mul­ti-Role con­fig­u­ra­tion for the next-gen­er­a­tion heli­copter.
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Con­cep­tu­al graph­ic illus­tra­tion of a poten­tial future Joint Mul­ti-Role co-axi­al con­fig­u­ra­tion.
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Con­cep­tu­al graph­ic illus­tra­tion of a poten­tial future Joint Mul­ti-Role con­fig­u­ra­tion for the next-gen­er­a­tion heli­copter.
Click to enlarge

The Army-led Joint Mul­ti-Role, or JMR pro­gram is a broad­ly-scoped Pen­ta­gon effort, includ­ing input, offi­cials and work­ing group mem­bers from the Office of the Sec­re­tary of Defense, oth­er mil­i­tary ser­vices, Coast Guard, Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand and NASA, among others. 

“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, and sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy lead for the JMR Tech­nol­o­gy Demon­stra­tor Program. 


Build­ing a heli­copter able to sus­tain speeds in excess of 170 knots, achieve an over­all com­bat range greater than 800 kilo­me­ters (com­bat radius of 424 kilo­me­ters) and hov­er with a full com­bat load under high/hot con­di­tions (alti­tudes of 6,000 feet and 95 degrees F) are among the many capa­bil­i­ties sought after for the JMR

Plans for the next-gen­er­a­tion air­craft also include hav­ing 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 on-board avion­ics, manned-unmanned team­ing abil­i­ty and ship­board compatibility. 

“We’re try­ing to cre­ate a vision,” Chase said, refer­ring to the effort to har­ness tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion with a mind to look­ing beyond cur­rent force tech­nol­o­gy and iden­ti­fy­ing pos­si­ble next-gen­er­a­tion solu­tions in a range of areas such as propul­sion, air­frame mate­ri­als, rotor sys­tems, engine tech­nol­o­gy, sur­viv­abil­i­ty equip­ment and Mis­sion Sys­tems, among others. 

The JMR pro­gram, which seeks to begin design­ing sev­er­al “demon­stra­tor” air­craft by 2013 and con­duct a first flight in 2017 as a series of first steps toward devel­op­ing a next-gen­er­a­tion fleet of heli­copters, is a sub­set of the Pentagon’s Joint Future Ver­ti­cal Lift effort square­ly aimed at explor­ing emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies and best iden­ti­fy­ing the realm of the pos­si­ble with respect to future air­craft and heli­copter capabilities. 

The 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 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 assis­tance, MEDEVAC, anti-sub­ma­rine war­fare, anti-sur­face war­fare, land/sea search and res­cue, spe­cial war­fare sup­port, ver­ti­cal replen­ish­ment, air­borne mine coun­ter­mea­sures, and oth­ers, accord­ing a Nov. 9 Joint Mul­ti-Role Tech­nol­o­gy Demon­stra­tor Phase 2 Mis­sion Sys­tems Demon­stra­tion Request for Infor­ma­tion, or RFI

The over-arch­ing JFVL efforts span a range of four class­es of future air­craft, rang­ing from light heli­copters to medi­um and heavy-lift vari­ants and an ultra-class cat­e­go­ry designed to build a new fleet of super-heavy-lift air­craft. The ultra-class air­craft will be designed to lift, trans­port and maneu­ver large vehi­cles around the bat­tle­field such as Stryk­ers and mine-resis­tant, ambush-pro­tect­ed vehi­cles known as MRAPs. The ultra-class vari­ant, described as a C‑130 type of trans­port air­craft, is part of an Air Force led, Army-Air Force col­lab­o­ra­tive S&T effort called Joint Future The­ater Lift, or JFTL


The JMR Tech­nol­o­gy Demon­stra­tor effort is bro­ken down into two dis­tinct, mea­sur­able phas­es; phase one includes an 18-month Con­fig­u­ra­tion and Trades Analy­sis, or CT&A, designed to explore tech­no­log­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties for a new plat­form or Air Vehi­cle. Phase one also includes the design, fab­ri­ca­tion and test of sev­er­al demon­stra­tor air­craft, Chase explained. 

Phase two will be focused on trade stud­ies and the devel­op­ment of mis­sion sys­tems. The idea is to build sev­er­al “Tech­nol­o­gy Demon­stra­tor” heli­copters as a method of refin­ing and inform­ing the require­ments for the new air­craft, require­ments which will like­ly evolve and change as tech­nolo­gies mature and emerge over time, offi­cials said. 

The JFVL effort, which includes both the JMR acqui­si­tion pro­gram as well as 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. 


The JMR S&T effort, led by the Army’s Avi­a­tion and Mis­sile Research, Devel­op­ment and Engi­neer­ing Cen­ter, or AMRDEC, at Red­stone Arse­nal, Ala., has award­ed “con­cept trade and analy­sis” deals with four indus­try teams tasked with exam­in­ing the set of attrib­ut­es, designs and tech­nolo­gies need­ed to build a new, more capa­ble attack or util­i­ty heli­copter, said Dave Weller, sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy man­ag­er, Pro­gram Exec­u­tive Office — Aviation. 

“The real focus of JMR is to get at the three major tenets: improve the per­for­mance, improve the sur­viv­abil­i­ty and sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduce the oper­at­ing cost. The next-gen­er­a­tion air­craft will have to be a whole lot less expen­sive to oper­ate than the cur­rent fleet,” Weller added. “Also, a big issue is increas­ing reli­a­bil­i­ty and short­en­ing the sup­ply chain to get the logis­ti­cal ben­e­fits of com­mon­al­i­ty of parts. When we did an adjunct capa­bil­i­ty-based assess­ment done to iden­ti­fy gaps, we came up with some 55 gap areas. The num­ber one gap was reliability.” 

While the JMR pro­gram includes the explo­ration of light, medi­um and heavy-lift heli­copter vari­ants, the effort will ini­tial­ly focus on medi­um-lift options. 

The Army’ s Avi­a­tion Applied Tech­nol­o­gy Direc­torate, or AATD, at Fort Eustis, Va., which leads the exe­cu­tion of the tech-demo effort on behalf of AMRDEC, award­ed 18-month Tech­nol­o­gy Invest­ment Agree­ments to Boe­ing, a Bell-Boe­ing team, Siko­rsky and a 15-month con­tract to the AVX Cor­po­ra­tion. The first phase of the process will be for the gov­ern­ment and its indus­try part­ners to con­duct ana­lyt­i­cal stud­ies and trade assess­ments designed to artic­u­late the scope of what might be tech­ni­cal­ly pos­si­ble. These ini­tial find­ings will help inform the spec­i­fi­ca­tions to describe the rotor­craft demon­stra­tor vehi­cles which will then be built. 


“Right now the plan is to go through the first phase to define what the state of the pos­si­ble would be, fol­lowed by a down-select to build two demon­stra­tors. The idea is to iden­ti­fy, devel­op and demon­strate the best trade solu­tion that cov­ers the attribute matrix. The gov­ern­ment is doing the same kind of analy­sis that indus­try is doing, so we plan to com­pare our results,” Weller explained. 

Ini­tial results from these efforts are due by the end of next year, Weller said. 

“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 of all, dri­ve down costs. 


Afford­abil­i­ty is the utmost pri­or­i­ty with the JMR effort, Chase and Weller emphasized. 

“It is envi­sioned 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,” the JMR RFI doc­u­ments state. 

With these Con­fig­u­ra­tion Trades and Analy­sis 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 for 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. 

PHASE I — Air Vehi­cle

The goal of the JMR S&T pro­gram is to lever­age the S&T need­ed to suc­cess­ful­ly influ­ence the devel­op­ment of a pro­gram of record, Weller explained. The pro­gram plans to have an approved ini­tial capa­bil­i­ties doc­u­ment by April 2013. 

The areas of S&T focus on the JMR Tech­nol­o­gy Demon­stra­tor pro­gram span a wide spec­trum of emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies from com­pos­ite mate­ri­als to elec­tron­ics and var­i­ous rotor con­fig­u­ra­tions designed to increase speed with­out com­pro­mis­ing hov­er abil­i­ty, Weller said. 

For exam­ple, one of sev­er­al exist­ing “com­pound heli­copter” tech­nolo­gies under exam­i­na­tion is the poten­tial use of a coax­i­al rotor sys­tem. With this tech­nol­o­gy, the idea is to place aux­il­iary propul­sion tech­nolo­gies or “thrust­ing” devices at the back end of the air­craft to pro­vide extra speed, Weller explained. 

Anoth­er exam­ple of these so-called con­fig­u­ra­tions is to build a heli­copter which uses two tur­bo-shaft engines and two small fixed wings on each side of the air­craft fit­ted with a push­er-pro­peller for extra propulsion. 


Also under exam­i­na­tion is the poten­tial use of tilt-rotor air­craft tech­nol­o­gy such as that cur­rent­ly used for the V‑22 Osprey; with this design, the air­craft can reach high speeds in air­plane mode and then main­tain its abil­i­ty to hov­er suc­cess­ful­ly in heli­copter mode. 

“When you devel­op capa­bil­i­ty like these, how­ev­er, you give up some hov­er abil­i­ty. A main focus of the research is to look at ways of increas­ing speed with­out sac­ri­fic­ing the abil­i­ty to hov­er,” Weller said. “Part of the Sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy pro­gram is to look at dif­fer­ent configurations.” 

One of the options being tak­en up through this effort is the explo­ration of mul­ti-speed trans­mis­sion capa­bil­i­ty, a unique con­fig­u­ra­tion designed to increase speed while avoid­ing the aero­dy­nam­ic phe­nom­e­non of tran­son­ic shock, Din­ning explained. 

“All of the heli­copters we devel­op now are built with a sin­gle-speed trans­mis­sion. We are look­ing at how we can lever­age tech­nol­o­gy and put in a mul­ti-speed capa­bil­i­ty,” he said. 


In addi­tion, the new Air Vehi­cle may con­tain com­pos­ite mate­ri­als and or items now in devel­op­ment, Chase explained. 

“We are explor­ing how to get the most effi­cien­cy out of the new struc­ture that we can. One way to do that may be by using com­pos­ite mate­ri­als,” he added. 

Increas­ing Air Vehi­cle speed can short­en the response time for these extend­ed mis­sions or com­bat radius, a crit­i­cal neces­si­ty for sav­ing lives through MEDEVAC oper­a­tions, and get­ting sup­plies such as food, water and ammo to for­ward-posi­tioned forces, Din­ning explained. 

“Cur­rent heli­copter sys­tems are designed to oper­ate for about two hours with­out refu­el­ing. Typ­i­cal cruise speeds of 140 knots lim­it the range that these air­craft can oper­ate in,” Din­ning said. 

Short of off-load­ing pay­load (troops, weapons, car­go) to add extra fuel blad­ders, extend­ed-range oper­a­tions must rely on For­ward Arm­ing and Refu­el­ing Points, or FARPs, where fuel and arma­ments are prepositioned. 

“The Army rec­og­nizes the need to reduce the manned foot­print of these for­ward oper­a­tion posi­tions,” Din­ning said. 

Non-lin­ear, asym­met­ric or coun­terin­sur­gency-type envi­ron­ments, such as the cur­rent con­flicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, under­score the need to reduce the risks asso­ci­at­ed with hav­ing deployed units trav­el to poten­tial­ly hos­tile prepo­si­tioned loca­tions to set up FARPs, he said. 

Phase 1 will be fol­lowed by a Phase 2 exten­sive Mis­sion Sys­tems and Air­craft Sur­viv­abil­i­ty Equip­ment, or ASE S&T devel­op­men­tal effort. 

US Army 

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