Defense

Next-Generation Aircraft to Transform Modern Battlefield

It is no secret that great power competition has refocused the military on strategic challenges to the United States’ national security.


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Following nearly two-decades of active conflict, America’s leaders have moved to address these shifting threats as seen in the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS), “we are emerging from a period of strategic atrophy, aware that our competitive military advantage has been eroding.” The military services have made the critical decisions; they are prioritizing programmatic investments to reestablish strategic deterrence, and there is a path forward.

We are at a unique time where now-mature technologies can be matched with proven government and industry partnerships to deliver the needed capability.  

For example, a key modernization priority for the U.S. Army is the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program. This effort aims to revolutionize aerial battlefield mobility for the Army with next-generation aircraft that can dominate all areas of the battlefield and deliver unparalleled humanitarian aid in the most austere environments. In short, these future aircraft must deliver radically improved speed, range and low-speed agility, all at a sustainable price.

An aircraft able to check all those boxes would redefine mobility, save lives and transform the modern battlefield, much like the Army’s first helicopters did nearly 60 years ago when they were introduced during the Vietnam War. Developing an aircraft of this caliber has the Army working with industry leaders in ways it has never done before.

Efforts are well underway, and results are very positive. As part of the U.S. Army led Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD) program, the Bell V-280 Valor demonstrates that close collaboration between government and industry can deliver an aircraft with twice the speed and twice times the range of current systems through a fast and repeatable process.

The V-280 has been flying for a year and a half and was recognized as a finalist for the National Aeronautic Association’s 2018 Robert J. Collier Trophy, the benchmark of aerospace achievement for more than 100 years. The award’s prestige can be measured by looking at some of the previous winners, like Chuck Yeager for smashing of the sound barrier in a Bell X-1 rocket jet and the crew of Apollo 11 for the first lunar landing.

The V-280’s accomplishments in just over six years of design, build and flight, are evidence that the bold claims tiltrotor technology maturity and capability have been earned. Using Bell’s tiltrotor pedigree, enhanced by the latest digital technology, the aircraft owns the air both vertically and horizontally as it transitions between helicopter mode for vertical flight and a fixed-wing cruise mode for forward flight. Never before has this configuration been applied in a twin engine tiltrotor – a revolutionary design in which only the rotor pylons rotate to transition from vertical lift mode to airplane mode. This unique design enables the aircraft to support ground troops in tight quarters with its low-speed agility and without a runway; while getting to and from the mission area by cruising at a speed of 280 knots. The V-280’s speed and range are well beyond that of any helicopter, not only giving it greater access to get to the objective but radically improving productivity – thus bringing support to more people with fewer aircraft and at less cost per mile.

This unique design enables the aircraft to support ground troops in tight quarters with its low-speed agility and without a runway; while getting to and from the mission area by cruising at a speed of 280 knots. The V-280’s speed and range are well beyond that of any helicopter, not only giving it greater access to get to the objective but radically improving productivity – thus bringing support to more people with fewer aircraft and at less cost per mile.

While the V-280’s speed, range and agility break through the capability limitations of conventional helicopters, its ability to incorporate a range of mission equipment packages further solidifies the aircraft as a core enabler of multi-domain battle. Earlier this year, the V-280 initiated flight-testing for an integrated Pilotage Distributed Aperture System (PDAS), developed by partner Lockheed Martin. The PDAS system enables a 360-degree view for the pilot and crew to see through the skin of the aircraft, providing situational awareness unavailable on any rotorcraft in the world today. Because the V-280 is built with an open system architecture, it can incorporate systems updates and/or introduce new mission packages at a much faster rate and at much lower costs than ever before.

The V-280 represents a generational and cultural shift in the way the military and industry develop aircraft. Bell fundamentally and culturally changed the way it develops technology through design, build, test and sustainment, allowing it to cut costs and build with digital precision. By focusing holistically on the tools, processes and our workforce, we have revolutionized the manufacturing process. The entire aircraft represents a new scale of innovation from a clean sheet design, featuring a fixed-engine concept that offers greater reliability and maintainability, a straight wing for more speed and range, advanced material construction for strength and performance and increased rotor flapping to master low-speed agility. Each of these examples helped cut costs and built a high-performance aircraft with digital precision that is proving itself in the air every day.

The impact the V-280 will have for our military will change the face of the battlefield by saving lives and enabling our soldiers to maneuver like never before. It is a critical capability that America needs in a very dynamic and challenging national security environment, in which our adversaries have eroded our overmatch capabilities.

As the Huey revolutionized maneuver in Vietnam over 60 years ago, the V-280 is ready now to move to a program of record and revolutionize maneuver on today’s modern battlefield.