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PEO Aviation: Balancing the Current and Future Fleets

Aviation Leadership / By Mr. Patrick H. Mason: Program Executive Office Aviation remains focused on ensuring the readiness and relevance of the enduring fleet while simultaneously developing new capabilities supporting Large Scale Combat Operations and the Army’s transformation to a Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) ready and capable force. Accomplishing this objective requires alignment across the aviation enterprise as we methodically balance investments between our current portfolio of capabilities and those of the future. Through this effort we will achieve targeted modernization of our enduring systems while delivering enhanced lethality, survivability, and mobility across the battlespace.

U.S. Army helicopters, assigned to the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, fly in formation during the 25th Infantry Division Review over Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, Oct. 31, 2019./ U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY 1LT RYAN DEBOOY

Working closely with BG Walter Rugen and the Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team, we have made significant progress on our signature modernization efforts, the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), and the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA). FARA remains the Army’s number one aviation modernization priority and will provide significantly increased range, speed, lethality, endurance and survivability with capabilities that will allow Combatant Commanders to effectively penetrate and dis-integrate adversary integrated air defense systems. FLRAA will provide power projection from relative sanctuary with significantly improved range, mobility and speed over current Army and Special Operations Command aircraft.

The FARA program recently extended two of the five previously awarded Other Transactional Authority (OTA) Prototype contract vehicles. Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. will build and test prototype aircraft to “fly before we buy” NLT FY23. In parallel, detailed design is planned for the weapons system, including mission equipment integration. Industry can expect multiple requests for information and a combined FARA/FLRAA mission equipment industry day later this year. Continued efficiency, coupled with the expedited approach, will enable the first FARA unit equipped in FY30.

In March, the FLRAA Competitive Demonstration & Risk Reduction (CD&RR) OTA project agreements were finalized with Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. and Sikorsky - Boeing. These competitively awarded agreements support risk reduction activities that combine government research with input from industry partners to build a solid foundation for the future development and procurement of the FLRAA weapons system. The CD&RR agreements will extend over two years, informing final Army requirements and the program of record planned for competition in 2022. The FLRAA first unit equipped is planned for FY30.

Modular Open System Architecture (MOSA) is a critical element of the FVL Ecosystem. It enables rapid integration of evolving technologies to support MDO, allowing the accelerated integration of computing capabilities, radios, sensors, and survivability systems into the platform. MOSA provides the Army with a scalable, digital backbone with distributive processing facilitating air-to-air and air-to-ground convergence and rapid adaptation to evolving threats. It benefits the enduring fleet while reducing risk for our future systems. PEO Aviation is addressing MOSA at the system-level, ensuring new methods and technologies work across multiple platforms. The FVL Architecture Collaborative Working Group (ACWG) is charged with implementing and maintaining a roadmap that guides our enduring and future systems away from proprietary, stove-piped architectures and into a government controlled, open architecture.

Air Launched Effects (ALE) are a key enabler of the FVL Ecosystem. ALE extends the reach and lethality of Army Aviation with the ability to detect, identify, locate, report, and deliver lethal and non-lethal effects across the battlespace. A Scalable Control Interface gives ALE a common control with high levels of system autonomy that does not require a continuous datalink or direct intervention from an operator in the loop. Existing and future Army Aviation platforms will launch ALE to penetrate enemy airspace and loiter at objectives beyond the range limitations of existing aircraft sensors, establishing and maintaining overmatch. Earlier this year, industry submitted 37 enhanced whitepapers in response to an Aviation & Missile Technology Consortium OTA request for ALE technology. We are currently assessing the submissions and plan to integrate air vehicles, payloads, and mission system technologies into the aviation architecture with an initial capability in FY24.

The Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems (FTUAS) will replace the Shadow UAS capability in brigade combat teams (BCTs). It will be runway independent with MOSA allowing for interchangeable payloads and it will have modern datalinks providing improved encryption, teaming, and autonomy. Currently, the program is undergoing a competitive demonstration with four vendors fielding systems to six BCTs. The demonstration will extend into 2021 and the results will be used to inform FTUAS requirements for the program of record. We anticipate an initial operational capability in FY25.

Integrated Capabilities

PEO Aviation is integrating capabilities that span both enduring and future systems, providing targeted modernization for our current fleet while reducing risk and providing capability for the FVL Ecosystem. One example is the Improved Turbine Engine (ITE), designated the T901, a 3,000 SHP engine under development as a replacement for the current T700 engine. It will provide increased lift, range and reduced fuel consumption with a modular design enabling field-level repair with lower operating and sustainment costs. The Aviation Turbine Engines Project Office recently conducted a successful T901 Fit-Check testing for both the AH-64E and the UH-60M platforms. The ITE is the engine for FARA and will be integrated into aircraft scheduled for first flight in FY23.

The UH-60V is the first aircraft to implement a MOSA approach in the enduring fleet. It is a recapitalized UH-60L with a fully digital glass cockpit which increases aircrew situational awareness, enhances navigation, improves safety and prepares the helicopter for MDO. The Army will take delivery of the final UH-60V software build this summer and complete testing with a planned April 2021 initial fielding date. UH-60V is a critical first step, of many, towards implementing MOSA.

In order to realize the full value of MOSA, PEO Aviation is developing the Aviation Mission Common Server (AMCS). The AMCS will serve as the mission system digital backbone that enables rapid onboarding of future mission systems capabilities. Through a current OTA, AMCS prototypes will demonstrate a cyber-secure, Open System Architecture (OSA) for the enduring Army aviation fleet with risk reduction and growth for the future fleet. The AMCS aligns to the FVL Architecture Framework and uses consortium and industry OSA standards. A contract award is anticipated in 3QFY20 with a demonstration in 4QFY21.

Platform Modernization

In addition to the cross-cutting capabilities described above, we have some platform-specific modernization worthy of highlight. The AH-64E Version 6 (V6) is the latest modernization upgrade to the Apache platform with multiple new sensor systems to increase target acquisition performance, along with additional weapons and software to increase lethality. Software enhancements increase crew situational awareness while reducing crew workload and improving manned-unmanned teaming. The Link 16 military tactical data link provides aircrews with greater fidelity of engagement target and wingman locations, coordination of fires between flight members and interoperability in a joint environment. We will be fielding the first Army AH-64E V6 aircraft in September 2020.

The Army completes CH-47 Chinook Block I fielding in 2021 and Block II development continues on schedule. The Block II modifications significantly improve upon current capability while providing room for future growth. Many of the Block II technologies will be integrated into the MH-47G Block II aircraft and will be cut into the production line to further enhance the U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command mission.

PEO Aviation’s mission is to serve Soldiers and our nation by designing, developing, delivering and supporting advanced aviation capabilities for operational commanders and our allies. Our dedicated, highly skilled, and professional work force is committed to delivering the advanced capabilities our aviators need on today’s battlefields and battlefields of the future. It will be hard, it will be challenging; however, the team is focused on delivering results and works every day on behalf of our Army, Army Aviation and the Soldiers we support.

Mr. Patrick H. Mason is the U.S. Army Program Executive Officer, Aviation located at Redstone Arsenal, AL.

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