WASHINGTON — The flight schedule has slipped by a year for two prototypes competing for the U.S. Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft program, budget justification documents show.
The pandemic had already delayed government testing of the first Improved Turbine Engine Program engine, but the Army was trying to keep its FARA program on track, even though prototypes depend on the integration of that engine to get airborne for a full-year flight test program.
The Army’s fiscal 2023 budget justification books reveal the service planned to fly the two prototypes — from Bell and Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky – over the course of FY23, but that timeline has slipped. Now, Bell’s 360 Invictus and Sikorsky’s Raider X will fly over the course of FY24, barring any other delays, according to a comparison of the FY23 budget documents and their counterparts from FY22.
The service awarded contracts to the two companies to build the prototypes in 2020. The aircraft are roughly 80% assembled, and the competitors are waiting to integrate the ITEP engine once the first one finishes required testing.
“COVID challenges to GE Aviation’s Improved Turbine Engine (ITE) supplier base negated realization of a 12-month engine development acceleration necessary to support the original FARA need,” an Army spokesperson told Defense News in a statement.
“The overall ITE program remains on schedule and began first engine testing on March 22, 2022,” the Army noted.
FARA vendors plan to start ITEP integration into their prototypes in November 2022, the service spokesperson said, in order to support flight testing in 2023.
Brig. Gen. Robert Barrie, the Army’s program executive officer for aviation, told Defense News earlier this year that flight testing in 2023 will begin toward the end of that year.
“Do we still see a path to fly in ‘23? The answer is yes,” Barrie said. “There’s risk to that, but, yes, our objective remains to fly in ‘23.”
But with flight testing behind, the Army also must delay when it issues its request for proposals for the engineering and manufacturing development phase, from the third quarter of FY22 to the second quarter of FY23. It will now evaluate those proposals through the first quarter of FY25.
The Army also won’t enter Milestone B — the technology development phase — until the third quarter of FY25, delayed from the first quarter of FY24.
The weapons system capability design review has also moved from the third quarter of FY24 to the fourth quarter of FY26, according to a comparison of FY22 and FY23 budget documents.
“A schedule realignment was necessary to allow [competitive prototype] flight testing to inform the final requirement, the Weapons System Increment 1 activities, and documentation necessary for Milestone B,” the Army spokesperson said.
While the FARA schedule has slipped, funding continues to be solid. According to the FY23 budget books, there were slight funding boosts across the board compared to planned funding laid out in FY21 documents (the last time the Army issued a five-year funding plan).
In FY23, the Army plans to fund the program at $439.9 million, which is roughly $10 million more than it planned to spend in FY23, according to FY21 documentation.
The Army will provide $151.6 million in FY24, which is about $3 million more than planned. Then in FY25, the Army plans to spend roughly $17 million more for a total of $670 million.
Funding then ramps up in FY26 and FY27. The Army has budgeted to spend $769 million in FY26 and $1.1 billion in FY27.
The Army is driving toward fielding two future vertical lift helicopters by 2030. The other aircraft, the future long-range assault aircraft, is further along.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.