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AAAA: Industry Awaits Armed Aerial Scout Analysis

Against the backdrop of the 2011 Army Aviation Association of America (“Quad-A”) Annual Professional Forum and Exposition, held in Nashville, Tenn. 17-20 April 2011, the defense aviation industry is positioning itself for the release of the service’s Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) Analysis of Alternatives (AoA).

Near term actions – such as the fielding of the OH-58F models beginning in 2014 – are improving some aspects of the Kiowa Warrior fleet.

Although the critical armed scout functions are currently performed by the OH-58D, the extremely high operational tempos are being conducted with obsolescent airframes that present a number of operational challenges. Near term actions – such as the fielding of the OH-58F models beginning in 2014 – are improving some aspects of the Kiowa Warrior fleet. The AoA is seen by some as taking a more holistic look toward how those missions should and will be performed in the future.

OH-58D Kiowa

Bell Helicopter Textron’s venerable OH-58D is going through an upgrade program, while the company markets the OH-58F for the Army’s Armed Aerial Scout needs. Photo courtesy of Bell Helicopter Textron

According to Col. Robert Grigsby, U.S. Army project manager for the Armed Scout Helicopter program, the AoA has been a two-phase process.

“Phase 1 was to determine whether we needed a manned system on the battlefield, an unmanned system, or a mix of both.”

“Phase 1 was to determine whether we needed a manned system on the battlefield, an unmanned system, or a mix of both,” he said. “What that phase resulted in was [recognition] that a force multiplier on the battlefield was UASs integrated with a manned platform. That was completed in the May 2010 timeframe.”

Boeing AH-6

Another AAS contender based on a combat-proven design, Boeing’s next-generation AH-6 improves on the breed. Photo courtesy of Boeing

“Then Phase 2 was to look at the capabilities that are required inside a platform to achieve optimized results on the battlefield,” he explained. “That analysis has come from TRAC [U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Analysis Center at Fort Leavenworth] back to the Army leadership at this point in time. That will give the leadership the opportunity to look at a capabilities package. I mean that from the standpoint of not necessarily a materiel solution but ‘It needs to be able to go this fast, this far, have this much staying power, those kinds of capabilities.’ Then they can lay back in on top of that, from an Army standpoint, how that fits into the Army’s plans for aviation platforms as they go forward. So the Army is going to look at that right now, prior to going back to the Office of Secretary of Defense.”

“That will give the leadership the opportunity to look at a capabilities package. I mean that from the standpoint of not necessarily a materiel solution but ‘It needs to be able to go this fast, this far, have this much staying power, those kinds of capabilities.’ Then they can lay back in on top of that, from an Army standpoint, how that fits into the Army’s plans for aviation platforms as they go forward. So the Army is going to look at that right now, prior to going back to the Office of Secretary of Defense.”

Although Grigsby made it clear that the Army is not necessarily seeking a new materiel solution for the Armed Aerial Scout mission, industry teams have been working to position themselves for a potential materiel program.

Boeing AH-6

Another AAS contender based on a combat-proven design, Boeing’s next-generation AH-6 improves on the breed. Artist’s conception courtesy of Boeing

Boeing, for example, is positioning itself through continued development of its AH-6 platform. Perhaps best known for its AH-6M / MH-6M application by the U.S. Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (“Nightstalkers”), the upgraded and redesigned platform is already drawing international customers in its new AH-6i “International” configuration. Industry representatives point to a range of AH-6 advantages in the Armed Aerial Scout, ranging from high software compatibility with the Block III Apache to a rapid ability to replace aging Kiowa Warrior platforms.

“The Block II OH-58 provides a cost efficient alternative for the U.S. Army and U.S. taxpayer, and will demonstrate Bell Helicopter’s ability to meet or exceed all performance requirements for the Army’s Armed Aerial Scout.”

Bell Helicopter, a wholly owned subsidiary of Textron Inc., not only plays a key role on today’s OH-58D government/industry team but is also looking toward the future, supporting programs like the F model (Cockpit and Sensor Upgrade Program) that will provide an infusion of technology for today’s battlefield. In addition, the company has developed the OH-58 “Block II” representative demonstrator, announcing that it has been developed “in anticipation of a U.S. Army future requirement of 6K/95 performance. The Block II OH-58 provides a cost efficient alternative for the U.S. Army and U.S. taxpayer, and will demonstrate Bell Helicopter’s ability to meet or exceed all performance requirements for the Army’s Armed Aerial Scout.”

Sikorsky's Raider

An entirely new contender for AAS is Sikorsky’s Raider, based on its X2 technology. Rendering courtesy of Sikorsky

Sikorsky Aircraft is building its AAS position on the success of its X2 Technology Demonstrator aircraft, the first rotary wing aircraft to cruise at 250 knots (achieved on Sept. 15, 2010). In briefings at AAAA, company representatives noted that the demonstrator achieved all of its four major objectives – low vibration, 250 knots, low pilot workload, and low noise – as well as a supporting goal of preserving, educating, and inspiring the people, technologies, and capabilities at Sikorsky. In terms of AAS, Sikorsky is applying the X2 technologies to two company funded military prototypes internally designated as the AAS S-97 “Raider.” The first flight of Raider Aircraft #1 is slated for early 2014, with the second prototype scheduled to fly by the middle of that year. A Sikorsky executive offered a longer range timeline that could extend from those two prototypes to an initial operational capability for the Army in 2025.

The first flight of Raider Aircraft #1 is slated for early 2014, with the second prototype scheduled to fly by the middle of that year.

Eurocopter, American Eurocopter, and Lockheed Martin are also working together on their own AAS-72X concept. Leveraging the EC-145 airframe that is now fielded to Army units as the UH-72A “Lakota,” the team has built three self-funded demonstrators that highlight continuing developments in areas like systems integration, ballistic protection, missionized cockpit, manned/unmanned teaming capabilities, network ready communications, aircraft survivability, and weapons. The team had one of the three experimental demonstrators at AAAA where they provided demonstration rides for interested military and media.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...