The US Army will terminate development of the Future Attack and Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) after prototyping activities are completed at the end of FY24 to free up resources for additional investment in a range of other rotorcraft airframes.
This comes as part of a sweeping adjustment to the Army’s aviation portfolio, following “a sober assessment of the modern battlefield,” according to a February 8, 2024, announcement by the US Army.
“Sensors and weapons deployed on a variety of unmanned systems and in space are more ubiquitous, more accessible and cheaper than ever before,” said Army Chief of Staff General Randy George as part of announcement that Army investments will be refocused on unmanned aerial reconnaissance capabilities.
However, the Army will also phase out operational systems that are “not capable or survivable on today’s battlefield,” including the Shadow and Raven unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
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The offset between the programs, announced by the Army, also led to the end of production of the UH-60V version of the Blackhawk helicopter in favor of a multi-year contract to supply the UH-60M version that adds 20 years to the airframe’s life. Full production of the CH-47 Block II Chinook was also announced, ending uncertainty over its future.
The FARA program, which was intended to replace the Kiowa helicopter, is the third such program the Army has canceled so far, after development of the Comanche and Arapaho prototypes ended before production began. The Commanche development program spanned two decades, between the 1970s and 1980s, and cost $8 billion. Arapaho was canceled in 2008, with mounting costs and delays cited for the cancellation.
The FARA program began in 2018 with a shortlist of five competitors producing prototypes as part of a $1.9 billion program. The US military began with participating teams from BoeingSikorsky Aircraft, Bell Helicopter Textronand Karem Aircraft along with AVX Aircraft-L3Harris.
In March 2020 it was narrowed down to prototypes, sourced from Bell Helicopter Textron and Sikorsky Aircraft, and $735 million was allocated in fixed funding between 2020 and 2023, with production of FARA aircraft expected to begin in 2024.
Drawing lessons from Ukraine’s battlefields, military leaders assessed the capabilities offered by FARA and suggested that it could be best achieved through a combination of “perception, unmanned and space assets,” suggesting that critical reconnaissance missions have shifted to drones operational teams and geospatial satellite systems.
Wilson Jones, an aerospace and defense analyst at GlobalData, supports this observation, noting that drones can be less expensive to build, buy and maintain because they are generally smaller than manned aircraft. Jones adds that crew training is less demanding for remote systems and that using this approach greatly reduces the risk associated with exposing a pilot to an active theater or training accidents.
Tristan Sauer, an aerospace and defense analyst at GlobalData, notes that modernizing unmanned reconnaissance drones to take on the FARA mission, while committing resources to replace the Shadow and Falcon drones, “will require a massive upgrade in manufacturing capabilities to be able to deploy unmanned systems in the required quantities.”
“Long-term spending commitments and immediate infrastructure investment are now essential. This is because the emerging concept of a heavy UAS force structure will only be successful if it can deploy multiple drones for each manned system that would be deployed,” concludes Sauer.
Read the original at Defence247.gr