Washington, D.C. – Special Operations Command is looking ahead to build its next generation of vertical lift aircraft.

Army Col. David Phillips, director of Rotary Wing at SOCOM, told a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum on the future vertical lift the command and military services hope to have the aircraft ready in about 25 years.

The panel also included representatives from the Army and Marine Corps acquisition communities.

SOCOM only recently completed manufacturing its fleet of MH-60M – the special operations variant of the Black Hawk helicopters – last year, Col Phillips said. The command will also extend the life of its MH-47 Chinook helicopters to maintain its capabilities.

“We’re absolutely tied to the Army on this,” he said. “In the interim, we’re going to sustain our little bird fleet to keep them relevant.”

The Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act authorized the Department of Defense to spend up to $50 million this year on vertical takeoff and landing tiltrotor aircraft. The $619 billion measure passed the Senate Dec. 8 and now awaits President Barack Obama’s signature.

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The NDAA also authorized $25 million in upgrades to repair a damaged Blackhawk helicopter belonging to SOCOM.

SOCOM Aligns with Services, Looks to Future Capabilities

 Future vertical lift designs are open architecture and designed to be adopted by any of the services as well as SOCOM, the panelists each said.

Image courtesy of National Defense Magazine

“SOCOM is absolutely lined up with other services,” Col. Phillips said. “We shouldn’t get focused on the architectures of today; we should look at the architectures of tomorrow.”

The Joint Requirements Oversight Council first approved the Future Vertical Lift initial capabilities document in 2013. Although joint architecture acquisition programs can be difficult to execute, SOCOM has successfully shepherded them through the development process before, Col. Phillips said.

The colonel cited the conversion of the Army’s Black Hawk helicopters into SOCOM’s MH-60M variant.

Image courtesy of Helicopter History Site

“Better interdependence, better integration, better interoperability. I think those three tenets over the last 30 years have shown we can’t operate SOF and conventional forces separated in space and time anymore,” he said. “We have to operate together; we have to operate with nested acquisitions.”

In particular, the command will seek aircraft that can meet special operations requirements, including all weather and all environments, Col. Phillips said.

“We have to able to execute our missions when [the enemy] least expects it,” he said.

Featured image courtesy of The Avion Newspaper.