Lawmakers are demanding the military justify its pursuit of a new attack helicopter

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers will limit the U.S. Army secretary’s travel until the agency shows a thorough analysis of alternatives to pursuing a future attack reconnaissance aircraft, according to a draft of the fiscal 2024 policy bill released this week by a subcommittee on Parliament for regular air and ground forces.

No more than 70% of the Office of the Secretary of the Army’s travel budget can be obligated or spent until Secretary Christine Wormuth submits this analysis of the FARA program to the congressional defense committees, the bill’s signature.

The military completed a “very robust” analysis of alternatives in 2019 for its future Long Range Attack Aircraft program, subcommittee Chairman Rob Wittman, R-Va., said in a June 14 interview with Defense News. “So our question was why not the same for FARA?”

The Army selected Textron’s Bell to build the future long-range attack aircraft in December 2022.

As for the FARA program, the Army released a request for proposals in the summer of 2021 that narrowed it down to two shortlisted teams — Lockheed Martin and Bell — for a competitive flight. Each team has essentially completed prototyping and is waiting for the delayed Enhanced Turbine Program engine to get on the ground for the flight phase of the competition. Flights are delayed at least a year. The current plan is to fly by the fourth quarter of 2024.

“Obviously they started but never finished [the analysis of alternatives for FARA] and then we came to a decision, and this is where we’re going with the request for proposals for FARA,” Wittman said. “What we’re saying is that with all the things going on today with all the different service industries and looking at these platforms and looking at how we have capabilities and capacity at the same time, they’re going to have to look very carefully at the alternatives. .”

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There are other schools of thought about future attack and reconnaissance capabilities, Wittman said, pointing to the Marine Corps’ vision for semi-autonomous and autonomous aircraft to reduce risk and “have a bigger footprint in that field.”

Doug Bush, the Army’s acquisition chief, told Wittman during an April hearing that the agency is conducting an alternatives analysis for the FARA program, noting that the process slowed the program in addition to the ITEP engine difficulties.

Wittman said during the hearing that he was concerned that the military is just now conducting an analysis of AOA alternatives to FARA — having already spent $2 billion on the program — and pressed Bush on what could happen if the review it showed a better alternative than what is currently being developed.

Bush explained that the analysis began now because the Army had not decided on an acquisition path earlier in the program. The Army debated among itself whether it could enter the program at the engineering and manufacturing development stage, or whether it should take a more traditional approach and go through a technology development phase.

“We decided the most responsible approach would be to go to a traditional B milestone, which the AOA requires,” Bush said. “I think I’m confident that AOA, as structured, is fair. It is very thorough, looking at many alternatives. I think that’s good.”

“We will know more later this year,” he added. “I think we’re going to be in a good spot to know exactly where things are going to land in terms of the schedule of the program.”

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Because of delays within the program, Bush said during the hearing, the technology maturation phase of FARA will not begin until the first quarter of ’26.

The Army continues to develop systems for FARA, despite delays, that go beyond just the airframe, Lt. Gen. Wally Rugen, who is responsible for the agency’s vertical lift modernization, told Defense News in April.

While the military waits for the engine, it is developing the weapons systems and a critical modular open system architecture for the aircraft, Rugen said. “This is our attempt to claw back the timing and scope.”

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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