Although the Army anticipates fielding its first Future Vertical Lift aircraft by 2030, modernizing and maintaining current helicopters is vitally important, a top Army aviator said Thursday.
Maj. Gen. David Francis, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, outlined aircraft modernization priorities at the Association of the U.S. Army’s “Hot Topic” forum on Army aviation.
The Army is “not just concerned about (FVL), we’re concerned about the entire aviation force,” Francis said. “When I talk about the aviation force that is going to fight and win in future environments, I’m talking about the UH-60 (Black Hawk), the CH-47 (Chinook), and the Apaches we have today.”
Modernization is the key to their survivability, he said. Regarding the Apache, the Army awarded Boeing a $34 million contract Aug. 28 to integrate the Improved Turbine Engine Program — ITEP — into the AH-64 attack helicopter.
Additionally, earlier this year, General Electric Aviation was awarded a $517 million contract by the Army to engineer, manufacture, and develop the ITEP.
The ITEP engine requires “a 3,000 shaft horsepower engine that reduces fuel consumption by 25 percent and increases service life by 20 percent,” officials said.
“We must make sure that we’re giving the best capabilities to our sons and daughters,” Francis said, referring to today’s equipment. “We’re sending [them] into harm’s way on any given day, so they must have the most modernized equipment that we can possibly give them.”
Through targeted readiness, the Army plans to ensure its current aviation fleet is constantly modernized and ready to fight, and win, he said, because the Army will “have these fleets well into the future.”
Upgrades to current aircraft are intended to increase lethality and survivability on today’s battlefield.
In January, Army officials introduced affordable and relevant technical modernization upgrades to the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, said Jackie Allen, industrial engineer, Corpus Christi Army Depot, in a statement.
Black Hawk modifications include cockpit and electronic components.
Earlier this summer, Apache and unmanned aircraft pilots paired with combat ground forces to test Apache helicopter upgrades at Fort Hood, Texas. Modernizations include improved target acquisition and joint interoperability.
Aviation units are 83 percent committed currently on any given day, Francis said.
“The first unit equip for FVL isn’t scheduled till FY 30,” he said, adding, so “there’s (more than) a decade that we’re going to be using our (current) equipment.”
The Army expects a Future Long Range Assault Aircraft to replace some Black Hawk helicopters in 2030 and a Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft to replace some AH-64 Apaches.
“Everybody acknowledges the enduring fleet that we have today is going to be with us for a couple of decades yet,” Francis said. “That means that there are going to have to be some investments in those platforms as we move forward to keep them capable of fighting and ready to win.”
It’s going to take several years to field the fleet with Future Vertical Lift, Francis added. “We have commitments from our Army leaders across the board to make sure that we’re giving the very best equipment” to Soldiers.
FVL can “fight and win in a high-threat, multi-domain, large-scale environment,” Francis said.
As one the Army’s top modernization priority, FVL is a “leap-ahead” in speed, range, lethality, survivability, and reach to find, fix, and finish enemy threats and subsequently exploiting open corridors.