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U.S. Army cancelled the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) programme

By Defence Industry Europe

The US Army announced the cancellation of the FARA programme, a decision influenced by observations from the war in Ukraine. General Randy Georg, a senior U.S. Army officer, stated that the conflict demonstrated the superiority of unmanned and satellite systems over manned aircraft. Unmanned systems are more efficient as they can reach virtually anywhere, even in conditions of strong anti-aircraft defence, and are also cheaper than manned systems.

 

The FARA programme was initiated in 2018 to develop fast helicopters that would complement the combat AH-64 Apache.

In April 2019, the US Army awarded contracts worth approximately $15 million each for the development of preliminary designs to five contractors – AVX Aircraft (in cooperation with L-3 Communications Integrated Systems), Bell (a part of Textron Corporation), Boeing, Karem Aircraft (with contributions from Northrop Grumman and Raytheon), and Sikorsky (owned by Lockheed Martin). They presented their initial designs in March 2020. At that time, the U.S. Army selected Sikorsky’s (Lockheed Martin) Raider X and Bell’s 360 Invictus for the second phase of the FARA programme. Both aircraft were to be equipped with General Electric T901 turboshaft engines, producing approximately 3000 HP, developed as part of the Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP).

 

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The prototypes of both selected helicopters have not yet flown. The main reason is a delay in ITEP. Therefore, in 2022, it was decided to start flight tests in the fiscal year 2024. Serial production of the selected helicopter was planned to commence in 2028.

Now, the FARA programme has been discontinued, and ITEP temporarily suspended. This signifies a huge waste of resources. The US Army spent $2 billion on research and development for the helicopter programme alone.

To mitigate losses and utilise the knowledge gained from the FARA programme, the US Army intends to continue it on a limited basis at least until the end of the fiscal year 2024. The technologies obtained are to be used in other designs and even offered to U.S. allies. It cannot be ruled out that prototypes built by Sikorsky and Bell will ultimately be flown.

 

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The FARA programme is the fourth unsuccessful attempt in the last three decades to create a new reconnaissance and attack helicopter for the US Army. In 2004, the programme for the Boeing Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche helicopter was closed, and in 2008, the development of the Bell ARH-70 Arapaho Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter was abandoned. In 2013, the Armed Aerial Scout programme, which aimed to create a reconnaissance and attack helicopter based on one of the commercial serial designs, was concluded.

With the closure of the FARA programme, the US Army has decided to end the modernisation programme of the Sikorsky UH-60L Black Hawk multi-mission combat helicopters to the UH-60V version (so far, about 40 helicopters have been upgraded out of the planned 760). Instead, purchases of the serial UH-60M Black Hawk will continue.

 

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