Famed U.S. helicopter maker Bell is teaming up with Collins Aerospace Systems, a unit of United Technologies Corp., on a project to develop the next-generation attack reconnaissance aircraft for the U.S. Army.
Bell Textron Inc., said in a press release on 27 September that the two companies have signed a teaming agreement, as the company competes for the U.S. Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) Competitive Prototype program.
The FARA will be a light-attack and reconnaissance aircraft that will be able to avoid radar detection and operate in densely populated megacities. Requirements for the FARA, include enough Artificial Intelligence to fly unmanned at least part of the time, a secure communications network to control specialized drones, an open architecture, speed up to 235 miles per hour and the ability to reach targets 155 miles away. The Army plans to conduct flight testing on the prototypes in 2023 and make a procurement decision in 2024, then field this new capability to a combat unit soon afterward.
According to a company news release, Bell is designing a vertical lift aircraft, as part of the contract awarded in April of 2019, with advanced performance capabilities and high operational availability to meet the threats faced in multidomain operations. As the mission systems integrator, Collins Aerospace will deliver a new generation of avionics hardware and software featuring cyber-hardened and digital backbone solutions to the prototype.
“This team has a lot of experience supporting attack and reconnaissance requirements and will deliver a smart, lethal aircraft at an affordable cost,” said Keith Flail, vice president of Advanced Vertical Lift Systems at Bell. “The Army is looking for revolutionary solutions for warfighters and we are confident that our team has the right combination of innovative technology and experience to build an aircraft with transformative capabilities on a compressed timeline.”
Collins Aerospace will also provide Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) tools and processes to configure and integrate mission avionics for the FARA. The company’s use of the new MBSE methodologies will enable rapid mission capability insertions into the FARA platform.
“By teaming with Bell, we can reduce the overall lifecycle costs and risks associated with this next generation of aircraft and effectively meet the FARA objectives in multidomain threat environments,” said Dave Schreck, vice president and general manager for Military Avionics and Helicopters at Collins Aerospace. “With a long history of providing avionics solutions to both Army and Special Operations aviators, Collins Aerospace is uniquely positioned to provide Bell with the cutting-edge cockpit technology necessary to enable warfighter mission success.”
Although the configuration has not yet been revealed, the Bell FARA prototype takes advantage of technologies demonstrated on the V-280 Valor, Bell 525 and other Bell programs incorporating expertise in fly-by-wire flight controls, rotors and drives, as well as design to build technology that enhances sustainability, manufacturability and affordability. This team has the experience to produce an affordable, high-performance aircraft at reduced technical risk that will meet or exceed all requirements and provide reliable capability to the warfighter.