Estimated reading time 7 minutes, 58 seconds.
The U.S. Navy is rafting up to the Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) game, launching an official search for possible successors to the MH-60R/S Seahawk and MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned helicopter.
Navy officials plan to conduct an analysis of alternatives (AoA) “to identify cost-effective alternatives to fill capability gaps in the MH-60R/S and MQ-8C as they begin to reach their end of service in the 2030s,” according to a notice published Jan. 28 on the U.S. government’s contracting website.
Planned capabilities for an FVL Maritime Strike (MS) were approved in November 2019 when the service established a requirement for a vertical lift capability to replace the Navy’s existing fleet of MH-60R/S and MQ-8B/C systems. FVL-MS is expected to enter service in the mid-2030s, about the same time the Army’s Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) comes online to begin replacing the UH-60 Back Hawk.
“The MH-60 Seahawk helicopters and the MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned air vehicles are the pillars of the Naval Helicopter Concept of Operations for the 21st century,” the Navy’s AoA notice said. “The warfighting capability provided, whether deployed as carrier air wing squadrons embarked on aircraft carriers under the leadership of carrier air wing commanders or as expeditionary squadrons embarked on . . . surface combatants and logistics vessels, is broad and unparalleled in naval warfare.”
FVL is an Army-led program aimed at replacing the land service’s legacy aircraft with a family of speedier, more technologically advanced rotorcraft. Aside from FLRAA, the program includes the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) that will fill the gap left by retirement of the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, and the Future Tactical Unmanned Aerial System (FTUAS) that will supplant the RQ-7 Shadow drone.
Bell’s V-280 Valor advanced tiltrotor and the Sikorsky-Boeing Defiant X are competing to become FLRAA. A marinized version of either aircraft could fit the Navy’s bill, as it is looking to replace the marinized version of the Black Hawk.
Bell has toyed with designing a version of the V-280 optimized for use aboard ships, going so far as to produce models of the tiltrotor that sport a three-barrel rotary nose cannon and internally stored Hellfire missile launchers.
When Sikorsky and Boeing unveiled the SB>1 Defiant, the compound coaxial helicopter was pitched as “maritime capable. In a video released in 2015, the companies showed animations of the aircraft with blades folded, riding the hangar elevator and taking off from the deck of a Navy assault ship.
The Navy and Marine Corps have long considered hitching development of a new maritime utility aircraft to the Army’s FVL program. Maritime Strike initially was termed “Capability Set 2” on a scale of FVL aircraft that eventually will replace everything from attack aircraft to the CH-47 heavy-lift helicopter.
FLRAA originally was Capability Set 3 until it became a funded program of record and assumed its acronym. FARA was derived from what was originally FVL Capability Set 1.