Recently, an American political commentator and president of Frontiers of Freedom, a conservative think tank, raised concerns about the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of the U.S. Army’s Vertical Lift Modernization Program, particularly regarding the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA).
The analysis article presents a thought-provoking critique as to why the service “should rethink its design and development issues.”
But first of all, let’s discuss…
What’s the Vertical Lift Modernization Program?
The Vertical Lift Modernization Program (VLMP) is an initiative by the U.S. Army to modernize and upgrade the service’s vertical lift aircraft fleet. It seeks to develop and acquire advanced rotorcraft that will provide increased capabilities, improved performance, and enhanced survivability for future Army aviation operations.
The program encompasses several key initiatives, including the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program and the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program. These initiatives aim to develop next-generation rotorcraft that will replace aging platforms such as the UH-60 Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache helicopters.
Future Vertical Lift Program is committed to the development of critical combat systems, ensuring Army Aviation maintains vertical lift dominance over enemy forces in future Multi-Domain Operations.
— U.S. Army (@USArmy) April 16, 2021
The FVL program is focused on developing a family of advanced vertical lift aircraft that will meet various mission requirements, including utility, attack, and reconnaissance. The program aims to leverage emerging technologies, such as advanced propulsion systems, advanced materials, and autonomous capabilities, to deliver aircraft with increased speed, range, payload capacity, and agility.
The FLRAA program, specifically, is focused on developing a new long-range assault aircraft to replace the UH-60 Black Hawk. The FLRAA is envisioned as a high-speed, long-range aircraft capable of conducting rapid and precise troop insertion, medical evacuation, and other mission-critical operations.
Now, What’s FARA?
Between these two prominent programs, the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, or FARA, is one of the leading aircraft under the FVL program. It is specifically designed to replace the Army’s venerable OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout helicopter. Unlike its predecessor, the FARA adopts a revolutionary approach, incorporating cutting-edge technologies and innovative design features to surpass the limitations of conventional attack helicopters.
With this in mind, the aircraft’s design philosophy emphasizes speed, range, and maneuverability, enabling it to operate effectively in highly contested and complex environments. FARA will be able to swiftly penetrate enemy defenses, conduct deep strikes, and provide real-time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) data, enhancing situational awareness for ground forces on the modern battlefield.
Key Features and Capabilities of the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft
FARA’s advanced features and capabilities are posed to make it a formidable addition to the Army’s aviation arsenal, namely:
Speed and Agility: Equipped with state-of-the-art propulsion systems and aerodynamic enhancements, FARA is expected to achieve remarkable speed and agility, enabling rapid response and nimble maneuvering during both offensive and defensive operations.
Sensors and Avionics: FARA will boast a sophisticated suite of sensors, including advanced radar, electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) systems, and cutting-edge communication technologies. These sensors will empower the aircraft to gather critical battlefield intelligence and maintain network connectivity with other assets.
Lethal Armament: With an array of precision-guided munitions and air-to-ground missiles, FARA will be a deadly force against enemy armored vehicles, fortified positions, and hostile threats. Its armament will provide unparalleled firepower in support of ground troops.
Crew and Cockpit Enhancements: FARA’s cockpit will be equipped with advanced avionics, mission systems, and human-machine interfaces, ensuring seamless communication between the aircrew and the aircraft. Additionally, cutting-edge pilot assistance features will improve situational awareness and reduce workload during high-stress operations.
Navigating Challenges and Shaping the Future of FARA: A Critical Evaluation
While the development of the FARA program has made significant strides in recent years, it is not without its challenges. As security risks continue to emerge in the Indo-Pacific and Eastern Europe, the importance of maintaining military dominance has become increasingly evident. Critical challenges must be proactively and effectively addressed to ensure the success of the FARA program and the timely delivery of advanced capabilities to the U.S. Army.
Hence, the argument of Frontiers of Freedom President George Landrith comes in.
In his critique piece, Landrith argues against the current development plans for the Army’s FARA program and advocates for a different approach to defense spending. He suggests that, given the rising security risks in the Indo-Pacific and Eastern Europe and financial constraints due to budget-busting spending, defense budgets should be spent more wisely.
Challenging FARA’s Viability: A Call for a Cost-Effective Defense Strategy
The Frontiers of Freedom President contends that developing expensive and untested platforms like FARA, which may not be available to military personnel for years, undermines readiness and increases immediate risks. Instead, he proposes a “smart strategy” to strengthen defensive capabilities by investing in “effective, proven, affordable weapons and defensive systems.”
Furthermore, he argues that many established platforms can be upgraded with the latest technologies quickly and at a relatively low cost, making them more suitable for addressing immediate security concerns.
Specifically, Landrith questions the feasibility of FARA’s current design, highlighting issues such as its single-engine and small rotor size, as well as limitations in adding necessary weapon or sensor systems due to its heavy structure. He also points out the absence of a critical “analysis of alternatives” (AoA) document for FARA, raising concerns about the program’s funding and potential alternatives.
Strap in and take flight with Chief Test Pilot Bill Fell in the S-97 RAIDER, our flying testbed for the @USArmy's Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft program.#FARA #RAIDERX #ArmyModernization pic.twitter.com/6gFJpFn0RX
— Lockheed Martin (@LockheedMartin) April 29, 2023
Moreover, modernizing the existing Apache attack helicopters with the latest technology would be a more straightforward and cost-effective option, allowing the U.S. Army to enhance capabilities and deploy upgraded Apaches to pilots much sooner than FARA or other alternatives could be ready for testing. Landrith believes that such a modernization program would not only benefit taxpayers but also enable the Pentagon to allocate funds to other essential priorities.
In conclusion, Landrith urges the Pentagon and Congress leaders to reconsider the development plans for FARA and focus on more cost-effective and timely options, like modernizing existing Apache helicopters, to enhance defense capabilities and deter potential adversaries.
In the ever-evolving landscape of defense strategies and military modernization, George Landrith’s thought-provoking critique on the promising Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) program leaves us pondering: does his call for a cost-effective defense strategy, prioritizing upgrades to existing platforms like the Apache helicopters, truly hold merit? As security risks loom, FARA’s advanced capabilities are enticing, but Landrith’s concerns about delays, complexities, and budget constraints raise valid questions.
Nonetheless, as we await further developments and evaluations, the question lingers: will a cost-effective and proven defense approach prevail, or will FARA’s potential groundbreaking capabilities stand the test of time and emerge as the herald of a new era in military aviation? The answer lies in the hands of those entrusted with charting the course of our nation’s defense.