The United States government and the United Kingdom have signed an agreement last Monday, February 14, that enables the two countries to evaluate the possibility of cooperation on future vertical lift programs, enhancing their respective aviation research and development efforts.

In an attempt to advance the military’s modernization projects, both the US and the UK agreed to a “Future Vertical Lift Cooperative Program Feasibility Assessment project arrangement,” with the two countries promising to work together to ensure the advance and interoperability between the future rotorcraft aviation vehicles and equipment.

“Arrangements like these will ultimately improve our capabilities and strengthen our forces, focusing on joint lethality, survivability and reach while ensuring affordability for both our countries,” said US Army Future Command’s Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team Director Maj. Gen. Walter “Wally” Rugen

The future vertical lift program cooperation agreement, which was signed by Rugen and Director of Futures Major-General James Bowder, has pledged on behalf of their respective countries to exchange and share information about the development of rotorcrafts so that these future aviation vehicles can be operated and maintained in a similar fashion, saving both militaries millions of monetary resources needed to develop an aircraft.

“This arrangement is in addition to an already existing partnership the UK has with the US Army and Navy that aims to reduce the divergence between the two countries’ open-system architectures, a key component to keeping pace with emerging technology and rapid adaptability and capability evolution,” said the statement.

It can be remembered that the US Army has been pursuing a number of future vertical lift programs, including the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft program (FLRAA), a Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), and Air-Launched Effects (ALE).

By 2030, the FLRAA is scheduled to field a new long-range assault aircraft to replace the legendary UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter. Contracts were awarded to Bell and the Sikorsky-Boeing teams to pursue the program’s development. The US Army would then choose a winner between the two companies’ designs for them to build prototypes—this was done to have a more competitive atmosphere in refining design requirements and conceptualizations needed for the FLRAA program.

The DEFIANT-X, Sikorsky-Boeing's entry to the Future Vertical Lift program (Lockheed Martin). Source:
The DEFIANT-X, Sikorsky-Boeing’s entry to the Future Vertical Lift program (Lockheed Martin/Flickr)

Last 2020, the Army completed its Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration (JMR TD) phases to help understand what the future aircraft can possibly be capable of through architectural models. During these phases, Bell’s all-new V-280 tilt-rotor aircraft and Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky-Boeing’s SB-1 Defiant coaxial demonstrator were tested, with final phases of rigorous testing kicking off last March 2021. The SB-1 Defiant coaxial demonstrator would later turn into the DEFIANT-X, a variant of the SB-1, with the newer version using Honeywell’s new HTS7500 engine.

On the other hand, the FARA program also aims to field a new attack reconnaissance aircraft by 2030 as a response to the aging Bell-made OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. This aircraft has served valiantly throughout its years of service from 1969 to 2013. The US Army has used the AH-64E Apache, RQ-7 Shadow drone, and Eurocopter UH-72 Lakota after the Warrior was retired. However, the Army still needed a more modern and capable replacement; thus, the FARA program aims to fill the gap that the Warrior has left. Reports have also surfaced that the new FARA will be using the Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) that has been undergoing development since 2019 under General Electric Aviation.

On the other hand, the Air-Launched Effects program has been continuously developed throughout the years, with Raytheon, Alliant Techsystems Operations, and Area-I being awarded contracts to build these air vehicles. According to reports, these ten contracts were worth a total of $29.75 million to further develop ALEs for the aforementioned future vertical life aircraft being developed.

These systems are pursuing a modular open systems architecture so that rapid integration of new technologies can continuously be pursued as new innovations are discovered over the years.

These two companies are going head to head, with the US Army having to choose between the Bell’s V-280 or Sikorsky-Boeing’s DEFIANT-X this year. Similarly, Bell and Lockheed are also the competitors to build FARA prototypes for 2023.

The United States and the United Kingdom have had a long history of military partnerships as allies in various campaigns inside and outside of the military. The Future Vertical Lift Cooperative Program Feasibility Assessment project arrangement is not the first, nor will it be the last. Collaboration has always been the central theme between the two countries. In doing research together to modernize aviation for both nations, they save monetary resources while obtaining the newest, state-of-the-art technology available today.

“Together, we are stronger. Our deep science and technology collaboration is an important element of this and makes us both more competitive. Today’s agreement formalizes our cooperation to help determine the future direction of aviation in competition and conflict,” said Bowder.