Army was right to kill multibillion-dollar helo program, analysts say

Defense industry analysts said it had long been clear the Army needed to end the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft program.

Indeed, concerns about the program came before the war in Ukraine and as drones became commonplace on battlefields around the world.

And so when the agency announced last week that it would cancel its multibillion-dollar reconnaissance helicopter program just weeks before the release of its fiscal year 2025 budget, the news was surprising for its timing, but not for its content. her.

Instead, what’s less clear is what the cancellation means for the Army’s Future Command, the organization tasked with redefining the department’s modernization efforts. When leaders created Futures Command five years ago, Army leaders described FARA as a top priority.

Since his job is “to understand the future and shape the Army’s requirements accordingly, you can’t help but view this cancellation as a blow to that organization,” said Thomas Spoehr, a retired three-star Army general and expert defense.

House Armed Services Committee Vice Chairman Rob Whitman has announced that he will request a hearing on the rescission.

Bradley Bowman of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies told Defense News that it was the right decision to cancel the program in favor of spending on unmanned systems.

“Given what we and our adversaries have seen and learned in Ukraine, as well as the insufficient budget of the military, it seems to me the burden [of] The proof is in anyone who argues that the military should spend billions of dollars on a manned reconnaissance program with armed rotary wings instead of unmanned systems,” he said.

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Bowman noted the cancellation is a setback for acquisition, but said it comes amid several key successes for the Army Futures Command, which has nearly met its goal of putting 24 new systems in Soldiers’ hands by the end of 2023.

“Anyone who suggests it’s all sunshine or failure is not seeing the full picture,” he said.

Byron Callan also said some problems are expected.

“It is unrealistic for the industry to expect complete stability and predictability in acquisitions,” said Callan of Capital Alpha Partners. “That doesn’t exist in the commercial sector. Technology and changing consumer demands, tastes, drive change. The defense, to an extent, is no different.”

Lawmakers are already expressing concerns about the decision. In a statement late last week, the congressional delegation from Connecticut, where Sikorski is based, demanded more explanation from the agency.

They wrote that they want more details from the Army about “how they plan to achieve critical air capabilities, carefully prepare our national defense for the future, and utilize the exceptional and experienced workforce at Sikorsky for generations to come.”

Congress, according to Roman Schweizer, defense analyst at TD Cowen, “could reverse some changes.”

The agency had spent about $2 billion on the program, and Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky and Bell Textron also invested internally to compete for the chance to provide the Army’s next armed scout helicopter. Both were building aircraft and were expected to fly later this year.

Loren Thompson, a defense industry consultant, said the cancellation was unlikely to damage the military’s relationship with industry because it came relatively early.

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“Keep in mind that this program was not awarded, nobody loses anything that they were guaranteed to get,” Thompson said.

Pointing to the agency combining the FARA repeal with plans to upgrade its drones and buy more modern UH-60 Black Hawks and Boeing-built CH-47F Block II Chinook cargo helicopters, Thompson said that “ “The military has made the change, of course, more palatable for industry because it has thought through the implications for each of the major players.”

“Boeing no longer has to worry, and Textron’s biggest program win in a generation remains intact,” Thompson added, referring to Bell Textron’s win against a Boeing-Sikorsky team to build the Army’s Future Long-Range Attack Aircraft at the end of 2022.

Bryant Harris contributed to this report.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist who covers land warfare for Defense News. He has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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