The U.S. Army wants to go fast, but Sikorsky Aircraft
and Bell Helicopter
want it to go faster. The Army is pursuing the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) technology demonstrator initiative to develop the foundation for a family of vertical-lift aircraft capable of 230-kt-plus cruise speeds. Sikorsky is paired with Boeing
on one contender, the SB>1 Defiant, while Bell is developing the V-280 Valor tiltrotor (with Sikorsky suitor Lockheed Martin
). But JMR is aimed at fielding faster vertical lift in the 2030s and neither Sikorsky nor Bell want to wait that long. They are investing heavily on their own in developing speedy prototypes and want the Army to take advantage of that by moving the fielding schedule up. “We don’t have to wait until 2035,” outgoing Bell President and CEO John Garrison said last week at the Assn. of the U.S. Army (AUSA) annual convention in Washington. Those comments echoed those of Sikorsky officials earlier this year after the first flight of their S-97 Raider, a rigid coaxial rotor prototype for their JMR prototype. That aircraft may give the Connecticut manufacturer an advantage over its Texas counterpart in persuading Army officials to move their speed acquisition schedule “to the left.” The second S097 prototype, exhibited at AUSA, is intended as a demonstrator for potential customers, and Sikorsky officials hope to have it flying before 2017 (when the JMR schedule calls for Bell’s V-280 to fly). Another advantage, obviously, is Sikorsky’s standing as the Army’s main rotorcraft supplier; Bell’s products are being phased out of the Army. The two manufacturers’ quest for a speedier speed acquisition may be in vain in the current federal budgetary environment. Also speaking at AUSA last week, the assistant Army secretary for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, Heidi Shyu, said the service faces a $6 billion acquisition deficit if Republicans and Democrats in Congress fail to agree on defense funding and instead enact a year-long “continuing resolution” that keeps Pentagon spending at current levels.