The U.S. Army is leading what looks to be the biggest rotorcraft program in history. Called Future Vertical Lift, it could eventually buy thousands of aircraft to replace over a dozen different helicopters in the joint inventory.
FVL, as it is usually called, has been a long time coming. So long that technologies now commonplace in commercial aviation such as “fly-by-wire” flight controls are nowhere to be found in the Army fleet. So long that the Army was forced to retire all of its aged scout helicopters even though it lacked a replacement.
The good news is that with recent advances in aerospace engineering and manufacturing, there now is an opportunity to make a revolutionary leap into the future. The next generation of combat rotorcraft will have much greater speed, range, lethality, survivability and reliability, and yet cost less to operate than today’s helicopters.
The bad news is that if Future Vertical Lift falters the way some past efforts have, much of the U.S. rotorcraft industry might falter with it. FVL isn’t the only game in town, but it is by far the biggest. If production of legacy rotorcraft ceases to make room for new ones and then FVL fails to deliver, industry might not have enough cashflow to sustain essential skills and suppliers.
Army leaders are acutely aware of the potential industrial-base fallout. I know that because earlier this month my colleagues and I at the Lexington Institute had a lengthy exchange with the two top Army officials managing FVL. They are Brigadier General Walter T. Rugen, leader of the service’s cross-functional team for vertical lift, and Mr. Patrick H. Mason, the Army’s program executive officer for aviation. (end of excerpt)
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