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July 31, 2015

Future Military Helicopters Program to Slim Down One Way, Not Another, Leader Says

U.S. Army soldiers stand next to a Black Hawk helicopter during a military exercise near the town of Gjakova, Kosovo on July 1. (Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Army soldiers stand next to a Black Hawk helicopter during a military exercise near the town of Gjakova, Kosovo on July 1. (Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images)

In about a month, the number of designs moving forward for the technology demonstration program that’s associated with a long-term plan for replacing the current fleet of military helicopters will be pared down, a top program official said Tuesday. And he’s not worried about the rug being pulled out from underneath the program because of budget pressures.

Future Vertical Lift, initiated in 2009, is aimed at developing the next generation of rotorcraft that would share common hardware across the military. The Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD) is the science and technology phase of that process — what the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Maren Leed called the “concept car” phase Tuesday at a roundtable CSIS hosted with competing companies and Dan Bailey, the Army’s Joint Multi-Role/Future Vertical Lift program director.

Bailey said the armed forces are relying on a helicopter fleet based on technology from the ’70s and ’80s and that has been worn down by extensive use in war.

“When you think about the future in urban areas we’re going to be operating in, vertical lift is going to be absolutely essential,” he said.

Sometime in the next 30 days, Bailey estimated, the designs under consideration for this phase — by AVX, Bell, Karem and Sikorsky/Boeing — will be reduced to two, with the goal of demonstrations in 2017.

“We’re at a critical point in the schedule,” he said. “I would love to take all four forward, but financially we do not have the resources to allow us to do that.”

Despite the money constraints, Bailey said he wasn’t worried about sequestration cutting into the program’s budget, because Pentagon leaders have made clear that research and development is going to be protected.

“I have full confidence we are not at risk,” he said. “I don’t have many contingencies because I do not feel at risk that the JMR-TD will lose its resources.”

The program does appear popular in both the department and on Capitol Hill, but Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group, recently sounded a skeptical note about Future Vertical Lift.

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